Judge Chinhengo refuses to recuse himself from the Fishrot case

Hertta-maria Amutenja

High Court Judge, Moses Chinhengo has ruled against the recusal application filed by Nigel van Wyk, an accused in the Fishrot case involving allegations of fishing quotas fraud, corruption, and racketeering.

Van Wyk, who was released on bail last year, sought the recusal of Judge Chinhengo, alleging bias in the proceedings by the judge.

The judge’s insistence on proceeding with plea proceedings, despite objections and concerns from the accused and their legal representatives, added complexity to the case.

However, Chinhengo ruled against the application, stating that the applicant failed to present a compelling case for recusal, emphasising a judge’s duty to hear a case impartially.

In response, van Wyk’s lawyer Banga Siyomunji, announced plans to appeal the judgment in the Supreme Court within 14 days, expressing disagreement with the judgment.

“We don’t agree with the judgment, and we give formal notice that we will seek leave to oppose the judgment in the Supreme Court,” Siyomunji said.

One of the stumbling blocks in the trial has been the absence of legal representation for some accused individuals, with Chinhengo highlighting failed applications and financial constraints.

The judge noted the challenge, stating that legal representatives cannot commit without adequate funds, contributing to delays in the proceedings.

“Some have applied for legal representation but their applications failed the requirements. Legal representatives cannot commit as there are no funds,” said Chinhengo.

The background to the recusal application includes accusations that Chinhengo pressed unrepresented accused individuals to plead despite their pleas for more time to secure legal representation.

Van Wyk, in his application, accused Chinhengo of violating the rights of the accused under Article 12 of the Constitution by pushing unrepresented individuals to plead, entering pleas on their behalf, and possible prejudice.

Last year, during plea proceedings, concerns were raised about accused individuals pleading without their lawyers present. Siyomunji warned of filing a recusal application if the judge continued with plea proceedings, setting the stage for the recent developments.

State Prosecutor Ed Marondedze had presented only four out of 42 charges by the end of last year’s court session. Some accused pleaded not guilty, while others refused to give pleas. Notably, accused Bernhard Esau also raised concerns about irregularities in the state’s charges and announced plans to request Judge Chinhengo’s recusal.

Chinhengo said Esau never filed for his recusal.

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