Client faces retrial after lawyer admits to being ’very drunk’
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Pretoria - A private lawyer who represented a fraud accused in a Limpopo magistrate’s court while “very drunk” has caused her client to now face trial again.
The High Court in Limpopo, sitting in Polokwane, said the trial of Martin Mugera was not in accordance with justice due to his lawyer’s conduct. He had to be retried, the court said.
Judge MF Kganyago said the conduct and behaviour of the lawyer, only identified in his judgment as Ms Maloko, was an issue of concern as it was not expected from an officer of the court.
Apart from admitting she was “very drunk” that day and did not think the court would notice, she also admitted she was a conveyancer and knew very little about criminal law.
This also raised Judge Kganyago’s eyebrows. He questioned how she could have taken on her client’s defence if she did not know criminal law proceedings.
While it was said the lawyer often did not arrive for the client’s trial and that the investigating officer had to go and fetch her, things came to a head on December 1 last year when she acted strangely in court.
After the closure of the State’s case, Mugera took the witness stand to testify in his defence. During his cross-examination by counsel for accused two, the presiding magistrate noticed the behaviour of Mugera’s counsel was “somehow peculiar”.
She noticed the objection that the lawyer had raised against the line of questioning of the counsel acting for Mugera’s co-accused did not make sense.
It was clear she was not following the proceedings as a result of her state of intoxication.
During the engagement, the prosecutor raised some concerns about the state of mind of counsel for Mugera. The prosecutor also asked whether it was advisable for the trial to proceed.
The court enquired from the lawyer whether she was feeling fit to proceed with the trial that day, but she insisted she was fine.
The magistrate decided to stand the matter down, raising some concern that it appeared that the lawyer was not in “sound and sober senses” to proceed with the trial.
The lawyer then promised she would come to court the following day “being intelligent, proper and fit”.
She asked for forgiveness and said she thought that the court would not have picked it up that she was very drunk.
The presiding magistrate requested the high court to determine whether Mugera received a fair trial and whether his rights were not infringed on by the behaviour of his lawyer, “who was not in her sound and sober sense during the proceedings on December 1”.
When she was in court, she did not ask any questions or put the version of her client to witnesses.
Judge Kganyago also questioned how as a conveyancer, she agreed to represent her client in a criminal trial.
“Since she knew nothing about court processes; I doubt whether she had properly prepared for the case. If she did not prepare for the case, she would not have been in a position to conduct the first accused defence properly.
“It would seem as if the first accused was unrepresented during trial,” the judge said.
The judge ordered a copy of this judgment needed to be brought to the attention of the Legal Practice Council for their investigation into the conduct and behaviour of counsel in this matter.