Judge exercises firm judicial grip on Cato Manor 'death squad' case

2018-10-08 19:58
High Court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

High Court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Judge Graham Lopes has exercised a firm judicial grip over the so-called Cato Manor "death squad" case which has been on the roll for six years at the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban.

With the criminal case floundering because of pre-trial applications challenging the two racketeering charges some of the 27 accused are facing - and with each side blaming the other for delays in hearing them - Judge Lopes said he would hear a related application this Friday.

The application was brought by the State. It has asked the court to condone the late filing of "new information" in the record of the decision to authorise the racketeering charges.

While this case was set down to be heard in August - a date arranged with KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Achmat Jappie - Judge Lopes heard on Monday that the prosecution team had forgotten to enrol the matter.

"They missed the date. And we were told that the next available date is May next year," Anton Katz, SC, who is representing the accused, explained.

Katz argued for the case to be struck off the roll until all the applications were finally resolved and it was ready for trial.

However, for now the case will remain on the roll after Judge Lopes said he would not make a ruling either way until he had decided on Friday's application.

Katz pointed out that the men - who are facing 116 charges - were making their 18th court appearance since they were arrested in 2012 and they were being prejudiced because of the State's "modus operandi" of not following the rules when it came to filing papers in the racketeering charges challenges.

"I have personally [been] pestered by [my] instructing attorney to put pressure… this conduct is an abuse of process."

Sello Maema, the advocate who leads the prosecution team, said the men and their "piecemeal approach to litigation" were delaying the trial.

"They want to drag it out," he claimed.

He conceded that the missed court date in August was a result of a "misunderstanding".

"If the criminal case is removed from the roll, it will send out the wrong message," he said.

Judge Lopes' suggestion that he hear the matter on Friday caught both sides by surprise - and although Maema said it was ready to be heard, it emerged that the State had not filed its heads of argument.

The judge instructed that this be done by noon on Wednesday.

He said he would "deal with issues of prejudice" after the hearing and postponed the criminal case to October next year.

The racketeering charges are the "glue" which holds together all the charges. Without them, the State will have to prosecute individuals or groups of individuals in respect of specific incidents.

Accused "number one", former KZN Hawks head General Johan Booysen - who has subsequently retired from the police service - successfully applied for the setting aside of the authorisation by then Acting National Director of Public Prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba.

Judge Trevor Gorven found that she had no evidence before her to authorise his prosecution.

While charges were withdrawn against him, the then newly appointed Director of National Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams, signed fresh authorisations against all the men and it is now these that the men wish to challenge.

Read more on:    courts

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