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Durban - The lawyer representing alleged axeman Joseph Ntshongwana will have to explain to the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society why he did not arrive for court this week to represent his client, choosing rather to sit as an acting judge in Pietermaritzburg.
But Themba Mjoli denies he is “a truant” and claims his non-appearance was a result of a “genuine mix-up” in dates at a time when he might not have had his diary with him.
“It was just an honest mistake… and I didn’t know whether to go there (to Pietermaritzburg) or come here (to the Durban High Court).
“I have explained myself (to the presiding judge)… I don’t want to say I don’t care (about being reported to the law society) because I do, but I am least bothered by it.”
Mjoli was referring to an order made on Tuesday by Acting Judge Ifraan Khallil - who is presiding over the former Blue Bulls flanker’s trial - that his “disrespectful conduct” be investigated by the law society.
The part-heard trial, in which Ntshongwana is facing allegations that he is a serial killer responsible for four murders in which he chopped off his victims’ heads, was scheduled to resume this week for two weeks.
But on Monday morning, Mjoli sent an e-mail saying he, himself had part-heard cases to deal with, rolled over from July when he had done a stint as an acting judge.
He indicated he would be available on Tuesday and Judge Khallil said he would have to explain himself then.
But on Tuesday morning, Mjoli sent another e-mail, again saying he could not come because he was tied up in a case in which an expert witness was testifying and he would not be available until December.
The matter was reported to Judge President Chiman Patel who, Mjoli confirmed on Tuesday, instructed him to adjourn his trial and come to Durban immediately.
By midday, he had not arrived. With about 50 people waiting - including psychiatrists, psychologists and relatives of victims - Judge Khallil adjourned the matter provisionally until December, saying he had no choice.
Of Mjoli’s conduct, he said: “He left it until the morning of the trial to give an indication that there was a problem. This was in a manner I consider to be disrespectful.
“Members of the public are entitled to demand that officers of the court conduct themselves in a manner which is respectful… and to be beyond reproach. This is not too onerous and should be seen as a non-negotiable in an efficient justice system.”
He directed that a transcript of his comments be sent to the law society.
About 10 minutes after court adjourned, Mjoli arrived and went to see the judge in his chambers.
When he came out, he said he had explained himself.
“I was on my way. I left Pietermaritzburg at half past 11 and got here as soon as I could. What is there to report? It was all a genuine mistake.”
It is likely the trial will proceed only in February next year.