The defence lawyers in the K2.4billion Cashgate trial involving former Ministry of Finance budget director Paul Mphwiyo and 18 others have questioned the independence of trial judge Esmie Chombo as they fear she is compromised by asking the defence team to furnish them with witness list it intends to bring before the court is yet to rule whether it has found the accused with a case to answer in all charges they are answering.
In a letter from Justice Chombo to all defence lawyers which Nyasa Times has in possession, Chombo asked the defence team to inform the court the estimated number of witnesses for their clients in readiness for defence
“I had planned to bring to your attention a number of issues during the February session for management of the case as follows; request defence counsels to inform the court the estimated number (not necessarily names) of witnesses for their clients. Please note that this information must be submitted at the February session,” reads the letter in part.
According to defence lawyers, the call for them to furnish the court with list of defence witness before the prosecution finishes parading its witnesses is “worrisome” and questions the integrity of the judge who they feel is implying that the court has already made its ruling and found all accused with a case to answer.
‘We are surprised with the move by the judge to call for defence witness list before she even finish hearing prosecution witnesses, is she saying she has already made a ruling of a case to answer to our clients?” one of the lawyers queried.
The defence team also plan to protest the extended number of court sitting which has been proposed by the judge which will see them in some cases like May and August be in court for the whole month except weekends only in what the judge calls it speedy trial for the case.
But the defence argues that speedy trial shoul d not be at the expense of a fair trial.
The defence fears there’s high risk of a compromised and unfair trial if the schedule is maintained,saying some of the clients who are not working waiting for their fate to be decided are struggling to settle for a seven day court session and wonders where they will take a whole month payment for their lawyers.
‘How for example court reporter maintains her concentration level to report accurately for the record? How will the judge and even us lawyers concentrate and ably represent our clients with this schedule?
‘Justice hurried is justice buried, there’s nothing whatsoever that can justify a speedy trial in a criminal case at the risk of unfair trial to an accused and loss of his liberty,” argue another defence lawyer
When asked for a comment on the matter Director of Public Prosecution, Mary Kachale refused to comment. saying she also just got the communication from the judge like the defence team
Meanwhile, Nyasa Times understand the defence team are putting together an application to ask judge Chombo to recuse herself from the case due to a number of reasons that include that she is reportedly related to a husband to top prosecutor Mary Kachale and they think she is bias to the state prosecution team.