Lawyers accuse Meyiwa murder trial judge Mokgoatlheng of bias

A group of concerned citizens and advocates have raised serious allegations of bias and misconduct against Judge Ratha Mokgoatlheng, the presiding officer in the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial.

In an open letter addressed to Justice Dustan Mlambo, they expressed concerns about the judge’s conduct. They cited instances of bias, rudeness, sarcasm, and impatience during court proceedings.

The group consists of frustrated citizens and legal experts. They emphasised the importance of a fair and unbiased judiciary in upholding the principles of justice and maintaining public trust in the legal system.

Favouritsm and derogatory remarks

The group accused Judge Mokgoatlheng of displaying apparent favoritism and making derogatory remarks, which they believe undermine the integrity of the judicial process.

“Bias is a grave concern when it comes to the judicial system. A judge must approach each case with an impartial and neutral mindset. This …to ensure that justice is served without any influence from personal beliefs, personal relationships, prejudices, or external pressures.

“However, it has become evident that Judge Mokgoatlheng’s decisions and remarks have exhibited a consistent bias, favouring one party over the other. This undermines the fundamental principle of fair and equal treatment under the law.

“Furthermore, the rude, sarcastic, and impatient demeanour displayed during court proceedings is deeply disconcerting. The judiciary should serve as a role model for professionalism and decorum. This should be setting an example for all participants in the legal process. The use of derogatory remarks, sarcasm, and impatience not only creates an environment of intimidation and fear. But it … also hampers effective communication and the pursuit of justice,” the letter reads.

The group emphasised the importance of an unbiased judiciary. They requested that the judge reflect on his behaviour and engage in professional development. They also urged him to take steps to rectify any instances of misconduct. These will uphold the integrity of the legal system, the group said.

Professional development programmes

Furthermore, the letter called for Mokgoatlheng to undergo professional development programmes to enhance impartiality and professionalism in courtroom proceedings. They urged Mlambo to take their concerns seriously and ensure that the judiciary remains free from prejudice.

“As members of the general public, we strongly believe that it is our collective responsibility to ensure that our judicial system remains free from prejudice. That it also maintains the highest standards of conduct.

“Therefore, we request that you take these concerns seriously. Also that Judge Mokgoatlheng reflects upon the impact of his behaviour on the integrity of the legal system and public perception of the judiciary.”

Responding to the letter, Bekezeli Benjamin from Judges Matter, stated that complaints against judges require formal action in the form of an affidavit. This for consideration by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and other relevant bodies.

“Without an affidavit, it’s not possible for your concerns to be taken up by the JSC and other bodies,” he said.

The controversy surrounding the Meyiwa murder trial extends beyond judicial concerns.

Meyiwa was allegedly shot and killed during an alleged botched home invasion. This happened at the home of his then girlfriend and singer Kelly Khumalo in Vosloorus on October 2014.

Muzikawukhulelwa Sibiya, Bongani Ntanzi, Mthobisi Mncume, Mthokoziseni Maphisa and Fisokuhle Ntuli are on trial for the murder. They have all entered pleas of not guilty.

Trial within a trial probed confessions

The court previously heard that Sibiya and Ntanzi had confessed to the murder. However, later a trial within a trial sought to determine the admissibility of the confessions. They claimed to have been assaulted and coerced into making those confession statements. However, Mokgoatlheng deemed the confessions admissible.

This is not the only evidence frustrating these citizens and many others who have not voiced their concerns yet. During the first trial which was killed with (former judge)  Tshifhiwa Maumela’s tenure, the defence unveiled a second docket in the matter. This suggested that the five men in the dock are wrongfully charged. And that the people who were in the house when Meyiwa died should be charged for his murder.

These include Khumalo, her children and mother, and her sister. Longwe Twala and two of Meyiwa’s friends, Tumelo Madlala and Mthokozisi Thwala.

This evidence supports the accused’s version that Meyiwa’s killing was a hit ordered by Khumalo. While other witnesses have already testified, it is unclear when Khumalo would be called to the stand.

The court previously stated, however, that it would possibly revisit the second docket only after the conclusion of the current trial.

Another issue highlighted by the group is the wrongful prosecution of the aforementioned five individuals accused of Meyiwa’s murder. They have petitioned the National Director of Public Prosecutions, Shamila Batohi. They urged her to initiate a comprehensive review and investigation into the case.

Group questions integrity of the prosecution

In their petition, the concerned group raised serious doubts about the integrity of the prosecution. They cited flawed evidence, shoddy investigative work, and allegations of corruption within the police force.

“It has come to our attention that the accused individuals are being wrongfully prosecuted for a murder that involved alleged contract killing. While the true mastermind behind the crime remains at large. We have reason to believe that corruption and the protection of influential individuals have hindered the arrest and prosecution of the real culprits. Furthermore, the evidence presented against the accused is riddled with inconsistencies, shoddy investigative work, and deliberate attempts to frame them. 

“There are alarming reports of the police falsifying records and manipulating scientific and DNA evidence to support their flawed narrative. In addition, it is … deeply concerning that crucial eyewitness accounts have been disallowed or ignored. These provide direct testimony of individuals present during the commission of the murder.”

They emphasised the need for an impartial criminal justice system and urged Batohi to take immediate action to rectify the miscarriage of justice in the case.

The petition called for an independent review of the entire case. It called for identification of instances of corruption, reevaluation of evidence and protection of the rights of the accused. Also accountability for any misconduct uncovered during the review process.

“We believe that only through a thorough review and investigation can justice be served in the Senzo Meyiwa murder case. By addressing the systemic failures and bringing the true perpetrators to justice, you will not only rectify the injustice suffered by the accused but also restore public confidence in the integrity of the criminal justice system,” they said.

The story will be updated with comments from the National Prosecuting Authority once received.

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