THOUSANDS of suspects in remand custody may soon walk free following a law gazetted by Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane seeking to ensure that accused persons are tried within a reasonable time.
The Subordinate Courts Practice Direction (Streamlining the Processing of Cases on Pre-Trial Remand Pending Further Investigations) No. 1, 2021, gazetted this week, is intended to ensure that accused persons are tried within 60 days from the date of their first remand.
The gazette seeks to operationalise provisions of the Speedy Courts Trial Act 2002 which was enacted to ensure that accused persons are tried within reasonable timeframes.
“A person shall not be remanded in custody for a period exceeding 60 days unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary and such reasons shall be recorded in writing,” states Section 4 of the Speedy Courts Trial Act, 2002.
However, thousands of prisoners have spent several years in remand custody awaiting trial since the Speedy Courts Trial Act is rarely applied by Lesotho courts.
And Justice Sakoane now wants all accused persons to be tried within two months from the day of initial remand.
“In the exercise of powers conferred on me by section 81 of the Subordinate Courts Order, 1988, I Sakoane Peter Sakoane make the following practice direction. This direction may be cited as the Subordinate Courts Practice Direction (Streamlining the Processing of Cases on Pre-Trial Remand Pending Further Investigations) No 1, 2021, and shall come into operation on the date of publication in this gazette,” Justice Sakoane said.
“When making an application for a further remand at the end of the 60 days from the date of first remand of the accused in court, the prosecutor shall submit to the remanding court:
The relevant material on whose basis a further remand is sought, including affidavits by the investigating officer on the time frame for concluding the investigations; and
Citations of the statutory provision and precedents on further remand pending finalisation of investigation versus the accused’s right to trial within a reasonable time.
“The prosecutor shall only apply for further remand if satisfied, on the information and material supplied by the investigating officer that further remand will not unjustifiably cause delay in bringing the accused to trial within a reasonable time,” the gazette reads.
When reviewing an application for further remand, Justice Sakoane said the remanding court shall consider whether the remand application “is made in good faith and with the exercise of due diligence in concluding the investigations”.
He also wants the remanding court to consider whether the application will advance justice and not thwart or stifle the process of law and that it is within the time limits for filing of a charge sheet as prescribed by the Speedy Court Trials Act, 2002.
“If the court is of the opinion that there is no just cause for further remand and the prosecutor fails to prosecute the matter on the scheduled trial date, the court shall dismiss the matter for want of prosecution,” Justice Sakoane said.