Defence lawyer Keith Mweemba has warned that he will humiliate a cocaine-trafficking accused court interpreter who has been turned into a State witness.
This is a case where some court officials and businessmen are facing charges of trafficking in 24 kilogrammes of cocaine.
Mweemba told the Lusaka Magistrates’ Court that it would have made sense if that decision was made at the beginning of the case, before the accused shared so much information with him as his defence lawyer.
Last Wednesday, the State discontinued the case against one of the seven court officials, who were jointly-charged with two businessmen, for allegedly trafficking in 24 kilogrammes of cocaine that went missing under the custody of the Lusaka Magistrates’ Court.
The State, however, entering a nolle prosequi in the case of Florence Mshoka, a court interpreter, and imeediately turned her into its witness.
And when the matter came up for continued trial before Magistrate Victoria Chitulangoma, Thursday, State advocate Sipholiano Phiri called Mshoka to the stand so that she could testify.
However, Mweemba informed the Court that the defence wished to raise an issue before Mshoka could give her testimony.
Mweemba said the decision by the State to turn Mshoka into their witness was putting the Court and the witnesses in an awkward position.
“I do appreciate that the State is entitled to call witnesses of their own choice and we cannot tell them how to prosecute their case. (However) the Supreme Court did give an indication that this practice should not be encouraged as it has the tendency to defeat the course of justice. The reason why I have risen is that, is there going to be justice in this matter? And is the conduct of the State not putting this court in an awkward position when it comes to decision-making?” Mweemba asked.
He added that equally, the State was not being fair on Mshoka by subjecting her to cross-examination by lawyers who were representing her and already knew so much about her.
“In the record, our cross-examination will show that we (defence lawyers) are covering for everyone in defending this matter, including this witness. Now, will it be justice for us to start disclosing certain things about this witness? I feel very bad that I will start asking aggressive questions to a witness, who until yesterday (Wednesday), was somebody we were sharing information? I feel bad because on the other hand, I may not want to disclose certain things about the witness, but on the other hand, I have the duty also to protect the other accused persons. This practice must not be encouraged, this not justice,” he argued.
Mweemba asked the State to reconsider its decision, saying he did not want to humiliate Mshoka in cross-examination.
“Can’t the State reconsider their decision? They have entered a nolle, we respect that. She can be allowed to go home and stay. Is it that the State can’t do without her? Is it really a necessity that she must testify at all costs. Because they are now trying to blackmail her that: ‘you have to testify at all costs because we have done you a favour by releasing you from the case.’ These people cannot be allowed to call this witness who has come all the way from September last year, if probably this decision was made before evidence was heard, it would have made sense. I submit, this is not right,” said Mweemba.
At this point, Magistrate Chitulangoma asked the State to call other witnesses to testify so that there was progress in the case as she ruled on the defence’s application.
However, the State said they had only prepared one witness for that day.
At this point, the defence wondered why the State could only prepare one witness when the matter was scheduled for the whole day.
But after some discussions between the defence and the State, the State asked for an adjournment, saying the discussions between the two parties had not concluded, hence not resulted in anything meaningful.
The matter comes up on March 14.