Ghanzi Principal Magistrate has suspended all cases before him indefinitely as the country’s judiciary reels from a fresh row of forum shopping. The principal magistrate has indicated that he will not be presiding over any case until he is furnished with an explanation as to why a case that was registered before him has been moved to Gaborone without his consent.
Malambane was shocked to learn last week Monday that a stock theft case that was before him had been registered in Gaborone without his consent. The stock theft case involved the same accused person in another murder case he presided over in which he had given the accused bail. In an interview with The Sunday Standard, Malambane confirmed that he has written a letter to Regional Magistrate ÔÇôSouth Chris Gabanage seeking an explanation why he removed a case from him. Narrating the events, Malambane said a stock theft case was registered in Gantsi and it was scheduled to be heard by him last week Monday.
Malambane said the case was registered when he was on leave. He said he then received a call from a clerk at his court who told him that the case is being transferred to Gaborone. “I simply told him that I knew nothing about the transfer of the case, and that there is no how a case can be transferred to Gaborone without my consent. I then called the Regional Magistrate, who then told me that the case was transferred because there was no magistrate seating in Gantsi, I told him that I will be seating on Monday and there is no need to transfer the case.”
Malambane said when he sat on Monday; the prosecutor told him that the accused persons have been taken to Gaborone. He said he then stood down the matter so that the prosecutor could go and look for the reasons why the accused were in Gaborone. He said when he re-convened the court; the prosecutor told him that Gabanagae had instructed them to re-register the case in Gaborone. He said the prosecutor further told him that the case has been re-registered and had been given a new case number.
“I asked myself why the case could be transferred to Gaborone without my knowledge. I only concluded that it may be because I had given the same accused person bail in another murder case that is also before me.” Malambane said that he reached this conclusion because when he gave the accused persons bail in a murder charge they are facing, he received a call from Gabanage telling him that some people he could not name were complaining about his decision to give the accused persons bail. To show his displeasure, Malambane said he has written letters to Gabanage and copied them to the acting Registrar of High Court Michael Motlhabi and Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo seeking an explanation as to why the case was removed from him. He said he has also informed them that he won’t be sitting on cases until they gave him reasons. “If at all the removal of the case was a vote of no confidence in me, why should I be seating over cases? Are we going to seat in court and determine a case on public perceptions or on the basis of the wishes of some people with authority?” he asked rhetorically.
Gabanagae refused to comment, he referred all enquiries to the Administration of Justice (AoJ) saying they are the ones responsible for press enquiries. Motlhabi told this publication that the complaint lodged by Malambane will be followed up to its finality, he also said measures will be put in place to make sure that members of the public are not affected. “For now we can only say, we will put measures in place so that members of the public are not affected. We can’t leave people suffering,” he said. He did not dwell on Malambane’s issue save to say it will be followed up.
Gaborone based lawyer, Letsweletse Dingake of Dingake Law Partners said “If the transfer is done for no apparent reason, I am afraid an impression is being created by the Administration of Justice that the Magistrate is otherwise not inclined to a particular verdict they had wished for in the matter or not sympathetic to either the prosecution case and/or the deceased’s family. I can only hope that the office of the Chief Justice and/or Regional Magistrate, as the case maybe, is not, by this unexplained and unaccounted for transfer, engaging in forum shopping.” “If any basis exists for the transfer, the Judicial Service Commission must then open an inquiry against the Magistrate. I am sure that where there exists no basis the Magistrate deserves to be given the opportunity through the JSC to deal with public perceptions created against his person.”