Sunday, June 23, 2024

Judge, lawyer in rough-and-tumble

A heated courtroom clash occurred between Court of Appeal (CoA) Judge Lakhvinder Singh Walia and Infotrac lawyer Kgosietsile Ngakaagae last week during the ongoing P110 million lawsuit involving Debswana Diamond Company.

In 2022, Infotrac successfully sued Debswana at the Gaborone High Court over an alleged oral consultancy agreement between the two parties. According to Infotrac, they were engaged by Debswana to provide consultancy services aimed at ensuring the appointment of Albert Milton (now deceased) as the Managing Director, for which they were promised a fee of P110 million. The services provided by Infotrac included lobbying and stakeholder engagement.

Justice Abednico Tafa ruled in favour of Infotrac, prompting Debswana to challenge the decision. The appeal was heard this past week by a panel of three justices of the CoA, including Walia and Tebogo Tau.

An argument ensued between Infotrac attorney Ngakaagae and Justice Walia due to the latter’s constant interruption of the lawyer’s responses to his questions. Walia expressed doubts about Ngakaagae’s ability to answer certain questions, pointing out inconsistencies in the lawyer’s arguments and seeking clarification. The judge exhibited skepticism about whether Ngakaagae would adequately address the questions posed to him. Infuriated by the judge’s comments and the rapid succession of questions from both Walia and Tau, Ngakaagae decided to directly confront Judge Walia. He expressed his concerns, questioning the significance of his presence in the courtroom if he was prevented from answering questions or if his answers would be dismissed without an opportunity to express them.

Recognizing Ngakaagae’s frustration, Judge Tau intervened and interrupted the exchange. He reassured Ngakaagae that he was free to proceed and provide answers to the questions posed to him. However, Ngakaagae continued to express his grievances while Judge Tau attempted to defuse the situation.

Despite the lingering tension in the courtroom, both parties continued with their legal proceedings. Ngakaagae resumed presenting his arguments against Debswana, while the atmosphere remained charged.

Debswana lawyer John Carr-Hartley from Armstrong Attorneys presented an appeal to the panel seeking the reversal of Justice Tafa’s June 2022 High Court ruling. The ruling ordered Debswana to compensate Infotrac (Pty) Ltd with P110 million plus 10 percent interest for their contractual involvement in the appointment of the late Milton as Managing Director. Carr-Hartley argued that there was a lack of evidence substantiating Infotrac’s claims. In response, Ngakaagae emphasized that no witness from Debswana had denied the existence of an agreement between Debswana and his client, as established by the evidence presented in court. The ruling is set to be delivered on August 4, 2022.

This case also raises concerns about Justice Walia’s potential conflict of interest, as he has been involved in another court case involving Armstrong Attorneys, where he used to be a partner and his wife worked. Previous challenges to Walia’s involvement in cases related to the law firm arose a few years ago in a separate matter involving African Alliance and two former employees. The former employees argued that Walia’s past partnership with Armstrong Attorneys, as well as his wife’s employment at the firm, created a conflict of interest.

Member of Parliament for Selebi Phikwe East, Dithapelo Keorapetse, has also raised concerns about Walia’s impartiality in cases involving the government, citing the judge’s contract extension. Keorapetse stated in Parliament, “Any person who keeps getting contract extensions cannot act independently because they have to constantly act in a manner that guarantees their next contract renewal.”

Justice Walia reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 years on December 30, 2016, while serving as a judge at the High Court. He will be at least 78 years old by the time his current contract expires.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper