News and Information

Treason trial goes on regardless
February 3, 2005



A PRAGMATIC ruling in the face of firm intransigence managed to get the Caprivi high treason trial back on track in the High Court at Grootfontein yesterday.

With 15 of the 120 accused stubbornly sticking to their stance that they want to challenge Namibian courts' jurisdiction over them rather than seeing their trial proceed as planned, Judge Elton Hoff ruled that the trial should continue regardless.

The stance of the 15 saw them remaining without legal representation, even after Judge Hoff issued an accommodating ruling that gave them a chance to stay represented by the lawyers who withdrew from representing them on Tuesday.

The lawyers told the Judge that this was because the 15 had, in the words of one of the lawyers, given them "impossible instructions" by insisting that they should bring an application challenging the court's jurisdiction, while the rest of their clients wanted the trial to proceed.

The basis of that challenge appears to be that the 15 are claiming that the Caprivi Region is not a part of Namibia, so that no Namibian court has the power to try them on the charges they face related to an alleged attempt to establish an independent state in that region.

The grounds for their intended jurisdictional challenge that one of the 15, Martin Tubaundule, revealed to the court on Friday, "appear to have no legal basis and are based on other considerations primarily of political character", Judge Hoff stated in preliminary comments yesterday.

It remains to be seen whether the 15 will now continue to be present at their trial.

They informed Deputy Prosecutor General Herman January in a letter yesterday afternoon that they will refuse to go to court this morning, as they feel they will be "prejudiced and oppressed" if they are required to continue with the trial without legal representation.

The 15 were as good as their word yesterday, when, just as they had threatened on Tuesday, they did not go to court for the day's proceedings.

They were eventually forced to leave the prison and were taken to court.

There they heard Judge Hoff tell them that the question whether the High Court had jurisdiction to try them in no way affected the court's ability to proceed to hear evidence on the merits of the case.

The jurisdiction challenge could be heard and determined at any stage during the proceedings, and it appeared to him there was nothing that prevented the defence lawyers from continuing to represent the 15 as the trial continued on the merits of the case, the Judge said.

The Judge continued: "I am of the view [that] where an accused person, after having been provided with legal aid, stubbornly refuses to follow sound legal advice he or she must be prepared to accept the consequences of his or her unreasonable conduct.

"This court will not allow itself to be held ransom by the course of conduct the 15 accused intimated they would follow ... that they would absent themselves until the Director [of Legal Aid] had complied with their wishes."


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