Judges yet to rule on appeal by fondling magistrate

2012-08-24 00:00

HIGH court judges of appeal will have the final word on the guilt or otherwise of a former Durban magistrate who was convicted last year of fondling and kissing a young stenographer against her will in his offices.

Soobraman Mundhree (67) was convicted of having sexually assaulted the 24-year-old woman after asking a prosecutor to send her to his chambers.

There he hugged and kissed her and fondled her breasts.

Mundhree was sentenced to a wholly suspended sentence of five years’ imprisonment by regional court magistrate Jan Greyvenstein.

In his appeal against his conviction and sentence, the defence argued that the court did not adequately consider whether Mundhree — who admitted in evidence that a hug and kiss were exchanged — knew that the woman was not consenting to his actions or foresaw that she would resist his advances.

Pietermaritzburg high court judges Gregory Kruger and Kevin Swain reserved judgment yesterday.

In written arguments, it was submitted that the state’s own evidence had proved that the woman “gave no sign whatsoever that she did not consent to the appellant’s acts of hugging her, kissing her and touching her breast over her clothing”.

It was submitted that, according to her own version, the woman believed before going to Mundhree’s chambers that he had “romantic inclinations” towards her.

When he asked her personal questions and commented that her husband was making a mistake by leaving her as she was a very attractive woman, she had stated that she felt he was “flirting” or leading her on, but she did not reply and “certainly did not discourage the perceived flirtation”.

When Mundhree gave her a box of chocolates she did nothing to give the impression that she was not receptive to the gift, and when he moved around his desk and said to her, “Come here and let me give you a hug”, she testified that she “just stood there”.

The defence argues that the closest the woman came to testifying about Mundhree’s state of mind was when she stated that “when he probably realised that I was not kissing him back he stopped and he gave me another tight hug”.

She had earlier testified that she was “frozen”, did not kiss him or react to anything that he was doing.

It was suggested on Mundhree’s behalf that the evidence created a strong inference that he did not realise there was an absence of consent or lack of interest before that moment.

State advocate Adelaide Watt submitted, however, that the regional court magistrate had given a detailed and well-reasoned judgment and had correctly found the woman to be an “excellent witness” who was not biased.

She submitted that the court had dealt with the woman’s evidence in detail and that Mundhree’s conviction ought to be confirmed.

• ingrido@witness.co.za

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