‘Prejudice towards Defense’ Judge’s Conduct in Senzo Meyiwa Murder Trial Questioned
These concerns are also shared by legal expert Elton Hart, who told Newzroom Afrika that the judge’s conduct and rulings during trial proceedings are concerning. According to Hart, “The judge should now, at some stage, realize that he’s a judicial officer [and] he needs to be impartial and he needs to conduct because this is something that can be prejudicial to the defence and to the accused persons.”
Hart, a Law Clinic Attorney at the University of Johannesburg, questioned Judge Mokgoatlheng’s ruling on Monday, 11 September, that a handwritten statement by state witness Constable Sizwe Zungu did not exist. This decision came after defence lawyers had challenged the admissibility of a typed statement Zungu made on 31 May. Defence advocate Charles Mnisi argued that Zungu had “mentioned unequivocally that there is a statement that he wrote and he initiated it.”
Elton Hart further expressed his concerns, stating, “Now, I think he’s already saying to us (looking at the trial) that that is a credible witness. He cannot make a credible finding like that. It means that these accused, in his eyes, are already guilty, which is a sign of a judge who is not impartial. I’m very worried for the accused that I will see them getting found guilty and not being given a fair trial,”
Accusations of Bias
Hart also added that the judge habitually overrides the defence counsels’ arguments. He noted, “I’ve been seeing this trend [that] when the defence raises an issue, the judge is quick to shut them down… he’s overriding them instead of being cordial. Listen to them and actually allow them to speak, not just cut them off because when the prosecutor [Advocate George Baloyi] speaks, he’s not being cut off. He’s being given ample time to elaborate and canvas his points. I’m seeing some prejudice, somewhere lurking from the judge towards the defence and how they cross-examine and put their defence across.”
Social media users have been vocal about their concerns regarding Judge Mokgoatlheng’s conduct since the trial started de novo in July. They have accused him of favouring the prosecution over the defence and not allowing the defence to present their case adequately.
One user on Twitter remarked, “Why is he always attacking the defence? He’s so kind to Baloyi. Won’t even listen to the defense. He speaks while they speak, won’t allow them to finish speaking, and snaps his fingers at everyone as if they are puppies. This judge is rude and condescending!”
Another user expressed frustration, saying, “Honestly, the defence is not asking this judge to recuse himself because they don’t want this trial to start de novo again. This judge is absolutely horrible, I’m sorry.”
These concerns have raised questions about the impartiality of Judge Ratha Mokgoatlheng in the Senzo Meyiwa murder trial, prompting public scrutiny and calls for a review of his conduct.