A witness in a case involving 20 accused facing charges including housebreaking and murder has been granted leave to testify behind closed doors and not have her identity published.
This is after the State sought an order that the identity of the witness be anonymous, and that a closed-circuit television be used for her evidence.
The criminal case involves members of the Terrible Josters gang, in which 20 accused are facing 145 charges.
The witness is expected to testify in relation to four of the accused charged with housebreaking with intent to commit murder, murder, possession of unlicensed firearm, and possession of ammunition.
An oral submission and an expert report of a clinical psychologist, a Colonel Clark, was submitted to the court, in which the witness reported that she suffered from anxiety and experienced symptoms of a panic attack when she recounted the crime she had witnessed.
Clark’s report also indicates that the witness experienced heart palpitations and difficulty in breathing when under emotional stress.
“Colonel Clark further reported that the witness evinced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and was visibly distressed by the events she had witnessed. In her expert opinion, there is a possibility this witness may experience further trauma if she testifies in the presence of the accused.”
However, one of the accused, through his legal representative, opposed the State’s application to have the witness’ testify behind closed doors.
The accused said he had a right to see the witness present in court so that her demeanour could be observed when his legal representative cross-examined her.
He added that he could not be certain that the witness would testify spontaneously without reading from a document in his submission.
His argument was that allowing the witness to testify behind closed doors would make the trial “unfair and not serve the interest of justice or the public, including the family members of the accused”.
Western Cape High Court Judge James Dumisani Lekhuleni granted the order to have the witness testify through a closed-circuit television and for her identity not be disclosed.
“In order to enable this witness to give her evidence without fear of repercussions and danger to herself and her family, she must give her evidence through a closed-circuit television.
Undoubtedly, this initiative will add some measure of protection to her,” the court said.
Social activist Roegshanda Pascoe said that through her own experience, she experienced a lack of protection for witnesses in court cases.
“The impact of the trauma never leaves you, and in my case, where my family was gravely impacted, it’s even worse. It seems the human rights are one-sided, and it is biased for it contradicts itself.
It even seems as if the individual or the individuals who committed the crime have more rights. How can you testify freely when you know by becoming a State witness your life will be changed forever?” she asked.