THE KNIVES were out for Northern Cape High Court Judge Mmathebe Phatsoane after former Northern Cape ANC provincial chairman, John Block (pictured), reported her to the Judicial Services Commission. He claims she bowed to pressure to convict him in the Trifecta trial.
Sentencing procedures for the accused were derailed yesterday morning because of this urgent application.
While supporters did fill the gallery, the court building was devoid of any supporters carrying placards or chanting for their former leader, as was the case during Block’s previous appearances.
ANC provincial secretary, Zamani Saul, preferred to sit with Scholtz’s family.
According to Block’s legal representative, Advocate Salie Joubert SC, a judge, who is known to the defence, overheard a telephonic conversation between the presiding officer (Phatsoane) and Northern Cape High Court Judge President Frans Kgomo, indicating that she should “convict the bastards”.
Joubert stated that while he did not know the judge who had overheard the conversation, a number of lawyers and advocates in the legal fraternity knew the identity of this individual.
“My client met with his attorney, Dali Mjila, and senior advocate Moses Mphaga, from the Pretoria bar, on October 24 at the Protea Hotel in Kimberley, to discuss certain issues pertaining to litigation.
“Mjila conveyed that he had received information from a reliable source where this particular judge was in the presence of the Judge President (Kgomo) when Phatsoane advised him that she had no grounds to convict Block.”
He added that Kgomo was out of town when the conversation took place.
“If he admits that this conversation took place, the Judge President should be in a position to reveal who had listened in on the conversation. The nature of the application is not frivolous, neither is it an abuse of the legal process.”
Joubert added that the judge, who was privy to this private discussion, shared this information with an attorney, who in turn felt that it “needed to be followed up”.
“At a Black Lawyers Association meeting this year, the discussion was conveyed to Mjila in confidence.”
Joubert added that it was decided that this information should be disclosed to the Judicial Services Commission as the “life of his client was at stake”.
“While my client was considering an application for recusal, it is clear that Phatsoane had succumbed to pressure to convict the accused. Block has no reason to doubt the validity of this information.”
Joubert requested that sentencing be postponed for another four months to allow for the Judicial Services Commission to investigate the alleged bias of Phatsoane.
“The extent and nature of the complaint that was laid on December 5 against the presiding judge is that she should be found guilty of wilful and gross neglect of her judicial conduct.”
He added that his client’s constitutional rights had been breached and that he was not afforded a fair trial.
State advocate Peter Serunyne pointed out that the prosecution only became aware of the special entry application yesterday morning.
“The application to the Judicial Services Commission is separate from the criminal trial, which should be allowed to proceed. The evidence before court amounts to hearsay evidence, where the overheard allegations contained in the phone call moved from one person to the next.
“The only evidence before the court is an affidavit authored by the accused (Block). The defence is muddying the issue, where the focus is being shifted away from the criminal trial. While we are aware of the accused’s right to a fair trial, as well as the right to request a special entry if proceedings were irregular, it should be made in good faith.”
He indicated that the State considered Phatsoane to be a fair judge, where neither the State nor the defence had received any special preference during the trial.
Phatsoane denied the application for special entry proceedings that was lodged against her with the Judicial Services Commission.
“The complaint was lodged one day before sentencing proceedings were to take place.”
She pointed out that this was while the accused (Block) had been aware of the allegations that were raised by a “nameless judge”, who overheard her apparent conversation with Kgomo, in October already.
“The application is frivolous and an abuse of the justice system.”