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No laughing in court, magistrate tells gallery

By Tatenda Chitagu

There were moments of drama, humour and stern warnings during the initial appearance in court of MDC deputy chairperson Job Sikhala at the Bikita Magistrates Court in Masvingo on Thursday.

While suppressed giggles and sometimes outright laughter may be tolerated in some such cases in some courts, magistrate Marehwanazvo Gofa, who presided over the Sikhala case in rural Bikita, brooked no such jest in her court. In fact, she gave clear orders that no jokes or sniggering would be tolerated. Sikhala is facing subversion charges.

The order followed initial presentation of the case by Sikhala’s lead defence counsel, Aleck Muchadehama, who sought to clarify and confirm the identity of Sikhala, who was about to take the stand and testify about his alleged torture at the hands of the police who took him from Harare to Bikita.

“Job Sikhala, can you tell the court where you reside….? It is common cause that you a legal practitioner by profession. Is it correct that you are also a Member of Parliament?” Muchadehama asked Sikhala, who stood in the dock.

Gofa interrupted the question and said: “Can I remind you that this is not yet a trial, it is an initial remand. We only need vital issues, just a summary with vital evidence to support yourself.”

Muchadehama’s response brought the courtroom down in laughter: “What I was simply trying to assist the court with is to know that this is the correct person before it.”

Gofa did not take the jest lightly and retorted: “The gallery, let me warn you. We are not playing here. If you want to go out, you can go out than disturb proceedings. Don’t be contemptuous to this court. Do not laugh in this court,” she said, bringing the gallery into eerie silence.

Muchadehama applied for refusal of further remand, saying Sikhala was over- detained as the 48-hour limit before an accused is taken to court had lapsed and according to section 50 (2) (3) of the constitution, he should be released.

But Gofa dismissed the application, saying the criminal proceedings could not be overridden by over detention.

Sikhala had to apply for bail at the Masvingo High Court and the application will be heard tomorrow.

While courtrooms are not comedy clubs, shrewd and strategic use of humour is perfectly acceptable and is often tolerated, according to some legal experts.

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