Magistrate and Police Commisioner square off in court

23 Jan 2014 12:10pm
GOBABIS, 23 JAN (NAMPA) – An intense drama played itself out in the Gobabis Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday as the Presiding Officer and the Namibian Police Force (NamPol) Regional Commander squared off in a war of words during a bail application hearing.
Omaheke NamPol Regional Commander, Commissioner Josephat Abel was called as a State witness in the ongoing bail application in the matter relating to the death of Aminuis anti-stock theft activist, Hiambepo Kazeurua.
Stockley Kauejao, the main accused in the matter, two weeks ago brought a second bail application before the Magistrate’s Court on the grounds of alleged psychological problems he has encountered due to his unduly long detention at the Gobabis Prison.
It was however a question from the State Prosecutor, Johan Pienaar - on why the Namibian Police opted to ignore a court order directing them in March 2013 not to keep an accused in the matter at the Gobabis Prison, but to detain such person at the Gobabis Police holding cells - that appeared to have triggered emotions.
In his response to the question, Abel said the court directive was impractical, as enforcing it would mean sacrificing the interest of justice and the safety of the accused concerned.
A clearly annoyed Abel told the court that his office had attempted to reach out to Magistrate Lourens Pretorious - who gave the order and presided over the bail hearing - to explain why his order would be difficult to enforce shortly after it was issued.
According to Abel, the Magistrate blatantly refused to see him even after he wrote a letter to the Principal Magistrate at Gobabis requesting an audience with Pretorius to discuss the court order.
Pretorius reacted to Abel’s comments by stating that he was bound by the laws of the country to respect and enforce a court order.
The Regional Commander however interjected by stating that the onus to enforce a court order dealing with suspects under his care rests with him.
“Court orders are not final. The prerogative rests with the police on how the court order is to be enforced, or whether it is practical to do so. It does not mean that we have to ignore all aspects concerning a case and enforce a court order just because the court says so,” he noted.
The Presiding Officer enquired if Abel knew that the judiciary is independent from the Executive of which the Namibian Police forms part, and that he was expected to enforce the order - not to question it.
A fired up Abel said the Presiding Officer should not have made such a blanket order without being aware of the situation on the ground.
“I tried to contact you, the honourable Magistrate presiding today, to discuss this issue but you refused. We could have cleared this already before today. What is the purpose of asking me all these questions now if we could have settled them already?” he said, before adding that “the magistrate was probably not serious when he issued such order without investigating the facts on the ground”.
During Abel’s statements, the presiding officer could be heard attempting to silence him by asking him to “Keep quiet. Keep quiet sir, I am talking. You are out of order, keep quiet now”.
The Regional Commander’s reasons for not abiding by the court order, according to his evidence in chief, were that there was no place to detain Kauejao at the Gobabis Police cells as it was undergoing renovations.
He told the court that only those accused of committing minor crimes and juveniles were kept at the holding cells during the renovations, while others were transferred to other police holding cells across the region.
Those suspected of high profile offences, such as murder and stock theft, Abel said, were transferred to the Gobabis Prison for the duration of the renovations.
The bail hearing was postponed to 29 January for continuation.