The Chief Resident Magistrate Court in Lilongwe, is on Tuesday next week expected to deliver a ruling on whether or not witnesses should testify virtually in an extradition case for Prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary.
The duo was in court today, to commence the extradition process, as the South African government wants the accused to answer money laundering and fraud cases in that country.
The proceedings commenced , with crowds of Bushiri’s sympathisers chanting outside the court.
The state through Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Steven Kayuni stated that the available 10 witnesses are ready and willing to be paraded by the court.
Kayuni, however told the court that an application has been made to have the witnesses have their testimonies taken through video conferencing, without having them physically present in the Chief Resident Magistrate court.
“With laws already allowing, the witnesses can have their statements taken and questions asked through video conferencing since what is paramount is for the accused to be physically available in the courtroom, which already is the case,” Kayuni told the court.
The DPP further highlighted that the main reason why the witnesses could not be available physically, was due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has heavily impacted both the Malawi and South African governments.
He narrated that having the witnesses testify virtually, costs and time will further be saved, while minimizing chances of the witnesses contracting or transmitting Covid-19.
On his part, defense lawyer Wapona Kita, asked the court to dismiss the application saying it has no legal basis and its grounds are not valid.
In his submission to the court, Kita pointed out that, the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code is silent on the matter, and all cases as examples cited by the DPP are from the High Court, not the Magistrate Court.
“It is a mockery to the court to have the witnesses virtually, when the court is meeting physically while observing all Covid-19 prevention measures.”
“The excuse is lame and it would make sense only if the said witnesses have tested positive to the virus and are indeed of advanced age as indicated by the state,” submitted Kita.
Kita also questioned the state’s idea of having testimonies done through video conferencing when witnesses for the Bushiris and lawyers from South Africa have already flown into Malawi.
Addressing the arguments, Kayuni told the court that the matter at hand is on whether or not virtual attendance of the witnesses will allow the parties to take needed statements from them.
He further put it to the court that the practice (virtual testimonies) has always been there in cases at the child justice court where that is done to protect the children who are mostly vulnerable.
According to Kayuni, it is not a mockery to have the witnesses testifying virtually and the magistrate court must adjust to the everchanging Covid-19 environment.
In an interview granted immediately after adjourning the matter, Shepherd Bushiri narrated that the state must parade its witnesses physically, because for almost three years, his trial never made progress for similar excuses.
“It’s shocking to hear that the witnesses were not physically available for the trial, but I expect justice to prevail and that we should prove that we are innocent” added Bushiri.