November 17 2009 at 03:42PM
By Fatima Schroeder
High Court Writer
A shortage of judges at the Cape High Court has led to the postponement of the trial of three men charged with the murder of a Stanford businesswoman.
Thamsanqua Matinise, Sibusiso Ndamane and Daluvuyo Mthanyana are accused of murdering 36-year-old businesswoman Christine Kotze in April last year.
Their trial was supposed to start yesterday, but Judge Siraj Desai postponed it to April 12 because there were no judges to hear it. All three accused are in custody.
Yesterday's postponement comes less than three months after high court judge Dennis van Reenen lashed out in open court at the lack of judges when he was tasked with postponing a murder trial for nine months for the same reason.
He questioned why the accused before him had to remain in custody for an additional nine months simply because of a shortage of judges.
The Cape Law Society's criminal committee is concerned about the situation.
Chairman William Booth described the situation as "worrying". He said the necessary roleplayers might have to meet to discuss possible solutions.
This might include the appointment of more acting judges with experience in criminal law, he said.
While Booth was aware of similar concerns with civil cases, he said that the prejudice to an accused in a criminal case was greater, especially if they were in custody.
In addition, Booth said an accused was deemed innocent until proven guilty, and added that all accused had the right to a speedy trial.
He said an accused faced with an unreasonable delay could apply for bail, or could ask the court to have the case struck from the roll.
Booth said there should be improvements in the system now that regional courts had extended jurisdiction.
In addition, he said that the new system of holding pre-trial conferences was aimed at shortening trials.
This would ensure that judges became available quicker because trials would finish sooner.
He said the pre-trial conferences were successful, but not a solution.
"There isn't any easy solution," he said.
Booth indicated that he intended raising the issue at the next high court meeting.
A High Court Performance Workshop for Criminal Matters is expected to be held on Monday at the Western Cape Provincial Parliament.
Cape Judge President John Hlophe, Deputy Judge President Jeanette Traverso, Justice Department regional head Hishaam Mohamed and Western Cape Director of Public Prosecutions Rodney de Kock are expected to speak.
The shortage of judges was also an issue raised by the Cape Town Attorneys Association last month. The group discussed it at a meeting after attorneys had battled to obtain trial dates for civil cases.
This article was originally published on page 6 of Cape Argus on November 17, 2009