Failure of the justice system delays appeal in Thandi Modise animal cruelty case

AfriForum’s Private Prosecution Unit has been left with no other choice but to approach the High Court in Mahikeng to get an order to compel a magistrate to simply do his job. The Unit was in the court today to appeal the acquittal of former speaker of parliament Thandi Modise on charges of animal cruelty. But the matter could not be heard because Magistrate Ben Mtebele failed to state his case and formulate a question of law – he did not provide reasons on whether he correctly applied the law when acquitting Modise.

The unit acts on behalf of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) who is privately prosecuting Modise, which was the Speaker of Parliament at the time and is currently the Minister of Defence, on charges of cruelty to animals. Mtebele found Modise not guilty on 30 April 2021 after filing an application for a discharge in terms of S174 of the Criminal Procedure Act.

The Unit’s spokesperson Barry Bateman says that after repeated requests for the magistrate to provide reasons, the High Court indicated that without the magistrate doing his job, it cannot hear the appeal. “We had a full morning of argument without dealing with merits of the appeal against Modise’s acquittal because a magistrate, compelled in terms of the law to state his case, failed to do so. Ironically, that only available option is to approach the courts to compel a magistrate to do his duty,” said Bateman.

North West Judge President Ronald Hendricks criticised Mtebele for failing to provide an adequate response to the unit’s numerous requests for him to state his case, and described what he did say as “non-sensical”.

The Private Prosecution Unit and the NSPCA argue in their application that the magistrate erred in his finding by considering evidence that does not form part of the court record, and did not take into account relevant evidence that was placed before the court. This includes the Regional Court not taking into account the opinions of expert witnesses while attaching too much value to the opinion of a lay witness regarding the amount of feed available to the animals.

NSPCA executive director Marcelle Meredith says they are deeply disappointed at yet another delay in the matter. “The regional court in Potchefstroom did not give a proper reason for its judgment. This is a travesty for all parties, including miss Modise, because this magistrate did not do his job properly.

The unit will now start preparing its case against Mtebele to get a court to force him to do his job as required by law.

An interview with Meredith can be downloaded here.

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