‘Soni’s trial is not fair’

2015-10-22 10:35
Rajivee Soni at court.

Rajivee Soni at court. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - Murder accused Rajivee Soni’s lawyer on Wednesday accused the state of “prosecution by ambush”.

Naren Sangham complained to Judge Jacqueline Henriques and assessor Gerhard Barnard that Soni’s constitutional rights to a fair trial were being “grossly infringed” by the manner in which state advocate Johan du Toit was conducting the case.

Sangham’s outburst followed an application by Du Toit to start leading evidence in a “trial within a trial” to establish the authenticity of a video recording, which the state alleges will show Soni discussing a plot to kill Pietermaritzburg doctor Bhavish Sewram.

The defence has consulted three expert witnesses, who were present at court yesterday, in a bid to dispute the admissibility and authenticity of the video.

The state will also lead expert testimony, and plans to show the video in the course of the evidence aimed at proving it is authentic.

Sangham said he was only yesterday handed a photo album containing “still photographs” related to the video, including photographs of a street, a map and photographs apparently taken from Google Earth. He was also only yesterday given an affidavit from an alleged MTN expert who would be called to testify.

The disputed video was allegedly ­recorded by state witness Professor Sithebe, who testified that he was ­approached by Soni to kill Sewram.

Sithebe said that “being a Christian”, he did not carry out the plan, and instead tipped Sewram off that Soni was out to kill him.

Sithebe alleged he had taken a video of Soni on his cellphone while they drove to Sewram’s surgery, and Soni was discussing his proposal that the doctor be murdered. He said he later sent a copy of the recording to his girlfriend’s phone, before pawning his cellphone. Police apparently recovered the cellphone after Sithebe revealed its existence to them.

Sangham told the judge he felt there were various instances when Du Toit had failed to take the defence “into his confidence” and provide relevant ­information to enable them to prepare adequately.

He continued with his complaints despite the judge’s observation that the state had also recently complained that the defence produced last-minute evidence in the form of a photo album.

But Sangham said he believed Soni’s fair trial rights were under threat ­because the state was providing ­documents to them in “dribs and drabs”, and calling witnesses “at a ­moment’s notice”.

“Each time the state finds itself in difficulty during cross examination, it goes out and gets further evidence. This totally infringes on the accused’s right to a fair trial.

“We cannot be told two minutes before a witness is called that he will be called. This is trial by ambush,” he said.

Du Toit said he had been “as fair as possible” and tried to ensure that the defence was in possession of all relevant information and evidence it was entitled to.

He rejected Sangham’s demand that he give an undertaking to hand over to the defence once and for all “all information at the state’s disposal” which it would use in the trial.

Du Toit said the state could never give such an undertaking and was entitled to investigate issues that arose during the trial. “What he [Sangham] is complaining about amounts to him being caught on the wrong foot. That’s just tough … I am not playing behind the scenes. I have given the defence documents and evidence as and when I get them,” he said

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  murder  |  court  |  soni

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