Lilongwe Chief Magistrate Patrick Chirwa has reserved his ruling to Tuesday on whether to grant the State its wish for the court to hear testimony from South African witnesses through virtual means in the extradition case of Shepherd Bushiri and his wife, Mary.
Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Steve Kayuni applied to the court to allow their witnesses to testify through video conferencing due to logistical challenges in travel arrangements amid the third wave of Covid-19 in South Africa.
Kayuni said the State was ready to start parading ten witnesses virtually following discussions between the governments of Malawi and South Africa.
“The logistical challenge stemmed from the escalating cases in that country. As of June 1, 2021 South Africa had recorded 1.6 million cases with over 56,000 deaths. Four of the nine provinces have been hit with a third wave. Additionally, conditions of some of the witnesses, their ages makes them susceptible to Covid-19,” he said
He further argued before Chirwa that the video conferencing has been done in so many cases after the emergence of the pandemic and it is not clear when the pandemic will end.
“We are not saying we should adjourn the matter. The witnesses are ready to testify all we need is the court to allow a video conference at an agreed place, the only absence will be their physical presence,” he said
But one of Bushiri’s lawyers, Wapona Kita, trashed the application, describing the issue of Covid-19 as a lame excuse.
He said the court can only be entertained only if a particular witness is Covid-19 positive but in the present case, none of the witnesses has tested positive in South Africa.
“The witnesses being referred to are between the ages of 20 and 3, they are in their youthful age and not in a group of most vulnerable. We also have our colleagues from South Africa who are present in the court; this is a mockery to the court,” he said
Chief Resident Magistrate Chirwa then reserved his ruling to Tuesday morning.
Speaking outside the court, Bushiri expressed dismay with the development, claiming even courts in South Africa also failed to provide witnesses throughout their trials.
The extradition process started in December last year, with the South African government demanding that the two face their multiple separate charges of fraud in that country after the Bushiris made a run for it despite being restricted on their movement.