(Continued from A Game of Traitors III)
As Mitwa is ushered into the courtroom, his face is blank. He has been in remand for three months, and has somewhat gotten used to his limited freedom. Court No. 1 is the largest of the five magistrate’s courts at Shava. It is even larger than the Environment and Land Court (ELC), but smaller than the High Court. Shava Law Courts does not have an Employment and Labor Relations Court, neither does it host the Court of Appeal.
Rhoda avoids looking at Mitwa. She feels rotten for having put him in this position, but she feels it is best for both of them. Kasida still comes to her room thrice a week to have sex with her, even though she is six months pregnant and her tummy is now protruding. Every time he shows up, he reminds her that if she squeals on him, or if she changes her testimony, he will have both her and Mitwa murdered slowly and painfully. If he was just threatening to kill her, Rhoda keeps on telling herself, she would tell the truth and face her death. But Mitwa does not deserve to die. It is better for him to be alive in prison than dead.
Chief Magistrate Truphena Juma, the magistrate who presides over court one, is also the head of the court station. With the assistance of the executive officer, she oversees the other four magistrates and the general administration of the station. Truphena is a no-nonsense lady. Within three years of her posting, the backlog of cases at Shava Law Courts has been cleared. Cases are moving fast. Part of the reason is that she has great people skills. She easily managed to convince other magistrates and the local chapter of the law society to put in more hours to clear the backlog.
For a year, she managed to get courts to open on Saturdays. The move was not without its challenges. Noise was made. Some clerks at the registry even petitioned the JSC seeking her removal. She was almost fired; the Chief Justice suspended her for “oppressing” employees by making them work on Saturdays. But she was shocked by the support she got. Members of the local Bar, as well as other magistrates, came to her defense. Members of the public kicked a storm. A majority of the clerks distanced themselves from their colleagues and offered support to her. The media, which initially called her ‘high handed’, ‘arrogant’ and ‘out of touch’ changed tune and started pressuring the Chief Justice to reinstate ‘the people’s servant’.
After being criticized on the media for two weeks, the Chief Justice backed down and rescinded Truphena’s suspension. The JSC later heard the clerks’ petition but absolved Truphena from any blame. She had not forced anyone to come. She had requested them to, and had even gone as far as telling them that they would not be victimized if they didn’t show up. The complaining clerks were simply responding to their own internal pressure because they thought that their colleagues who agreed to show up would get some benefit at the end. The JSC transferred those clerks to other stations and brought fresh faces to Shava.
Truphena is a public darling, and the Judiciary hierarchy has learnt to stay out of her way. Under her watch, registries are now working effectively. Staff members arrive promptly at 8 am and do not leave until 5 pm, with the exception of the one hour lunch break. Files no longer disappear mysteriously. Shava has become a model court station. But it is not just her administrative duties that put her on the map.
Her judicial decisions are bold but well thought. But it is difficult to predict her decisions based on a particular philosophy. Lawyers have long concluded that she is a pragmatist: she is unburdened by philosophies and decides each case based on what she feels is best in the circumstances, within the law. In her 13 years as a magistrate, only three decisions have been overturned by the High Court, two of which the Court of Appeal affirmed her decision and overturned the decision of the High Court.
There was a minor uproar within legal circles when she was bypassed the last time judges were hired. The general consensus is that there is no way she would have ranked lower than the majority of the other magistrates and lawyers who were successfully interviewed for judgeship. There were even murmurs with JSC itself, with some members accusing their colleagues of corruption. But Truphena has continued to discharge her duties as a magistrate without complaining.
Everyone in the courtroom rises as Truphena strides into the room. The clerk goes through the cause list quickly. Mentions and pleas are quickly dispensed with. Truphena has six hearings on the list today, and Mitwa’s case is the first one.
The case against Sebastian Mitwa is making Truphena uneasy. She feels something is wrong somewhere, but she cannot point out what. She has read the file several times and is becoming convinced that that boy is not guilty. The biggest challenge is that the witness statements indicate that there is enough to convict him. And as a magistrate, she can only decide cases based on the evidence presented before her, not based on her gut feeling.
She knows that she might have to send the boy to jail, even though her heart is strongly against it.
In their witness statements, Eric and Beatrice Kasida have painted Mitwa as a “violent and aggressive” boy. Mrs. Kasida has even mentioned in her statement that Mitwa has tried to rape her twice. The victim in this case, the girl called Rhoda, has written a brief statement stating that Mitwa had been defiling her for months, and threatening her into silence. According to her, she only opened up to Beatrice Kasida after realizing she was pregnant.
Mitwa has stubbornly refused to write a statement, making it even more difficult for Truphena to help him. There was a statement that had been prepared purportedly by him but it was so poorly done that Truphena could tell straight away that it was a police fabrication. In that statement, Mitwa had admitted to having sexual relations with Rhoda. When Mitwa appeared before the court for plea taking she interrogated him about it. He denied making any statement, and that is the only thing he has said in the entire trial. He does not have a lawyer, and Truphena is unable to get him a State-funded lawyer because as gruesome an offence as rape is, it is not a capital offence. The practice is that accused persons are only assigned lawyers paid for by the State only in capital cases. Truphena has read the provision of the constitution that provides for this:
Article 50 (2)(h): Every Accused person has the right to a fair trial, which includes the right to have an advocate assigned to the accused person by the State and at State expense if substantial injustice would otherwise result, and to be informed of this right promptly.
Truphena has a feeling that “substantial injustice” will result in this case, and has been tempted several times to invoke this article to appoint a lawyer for Mitwa. But she knows that that decision will swiftly be overturned by the High Court as setting “bad precedent”.
The first witness that the prosecution calls is Beatrice. She dramatically explains to the court how Rhoda confided in her and how promptly she called the police. Truphena asks Mitwa if he has questions for her, but the young man stubbornly remains silent. He just stares blankly at the magistrate. Even when Truphena glares at him, he looks back with a stunned half-pleading stare. This look unsettles Truphena. It is one of the reasons she is so curious about this case.
Feeling the need to help, Truphena asks Beatrice why they did not take Rhoda for medical examination.
“I was too traumatized, your honor; and angry. How could someone do that to my daughter?”
Truphena can tell she is lying; but Beatrice is such an accomplished liar that Truphena is unable to catch her in her web of lies. The next witness is Kasida, Beatrice’s husband.
Kasida is a poor liar. He is nervous and jumpy as he basically repeats what his wife had said, though with less theatrics. He is brief and doesn’t claim to have seen Mitwa defiling Rhoda, so Truphena allows him to say his thing without interruption. Again, Mitwa refuses to ask questions, and Kasida is back in his seat within minutes.
Police Corporal Elias Mutinda is the third witness. He explains how he received a call from Beatrice Kasida about a young man who had raped her daughter. So he went out in search of the boy and found him at the market centre and arrested him.
“Your statement says you arrested him while he was sleeping in his house at the Kasida homestead, Corporal,” Truphena points out.
“That was a mistake. What I meant was that Mrs. Kasida told us that he was sleeping at his cabin in their homestead. So my team and I naturally went there to arrest him. But he was not there. So we went to the market place to look for him.”
“So what did you find him doing in the market place?”
The corporal hesitates. The Prosecutor assured him that there would be no questions because the young man is still confused by his arrest and is unlikely to ask any questions. Plus, he doesn’t have a lawyer. But they did not warn him that the magistrate would ask questions.
“He was drinking your honor.”
“Drinking what exactly?” Truphena presses.
“Beer. We found him at a night club.”
Truphena is getting even more frustrated. These people are obviously lying. But without an elaborate statement from Mitwa, she does not know the right questions to ask to catch them in their web of lies. It is becoming obvious that she will have to send the eighteen year old boy to jail, even though she believes that he is innocent.
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Image by Susan Cipriano from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/the-moon-looking-at-the-moon-4311235/
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