Acquitted after 10 years

Innocent man sues state for N$11m

16 April 2019 | Justice

A 45-year-old man is suing the prosecutor-general and five others for more than N$11 million, after he spent ten years, five months and two days behind bars before he was eventually found innocent.

Petrus Shoovaleka, who worked as a taxi driver before his arrest in December 2005 on charges related to an armed robbery, is also suing the police for N$65 000 after his vehicle was damaged while it was impounded for more than a decade before it was returned to him.

In filed pre-trial papers, Shoovaleka's legal team argue his lengthy time behind bars and the sluggish pace of his trial violated several rights, including his constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial.

His decade-long ordeal included his arrest in December 2005, a seven-year-and-four-month wait for the trial to start in 2013, and another three years before it was concluded. He was acquitted of all 11 charges against him on 11 July 2016.

Papers filed by his Nixon Marcus Public Law Office legal team said the damages Shoovaleka is demanding are based on a “wholesale failure of the criminal justice system”.

Once the trial commenced in April 2013, it was only finalised in July 2016, taking three years and three months to conclude.

Shoovaleka was finally granted N$5 000 bail on 2 June 2016, a little more than a month before he was acquitted.

The particulars of claim state the police investigation of the robbery was completed a few months after his arrest, in February 2006.



Pain and suffering

In the amended particulars of claim filed earlier this year, Shoovaleka's legal team argued the violations experienced by their client led him to suffer “pain, anxiety, trauma and the indignity of spending ten years, five months and 29 days in custody at the Windhoek Correctional Facility, more than seven years of which he spent as a trial-awaiting person”.





Moreover, spending more than a decade with the unfounded criminal charges “hanging over his head” caused further anxiety, trauma and “loss of self-worth”, his lawyers argue.

The years in prison also impacted his personal relationships, including those with his two children, who were aged seven and one at the time of his arrest.

His partner and the mother of his children died while he was behind bars.



Lethargic

Court papers show that Shoovaleka approached the High Court in 2012 for urgent relief, but at first the case was struck off the roll, and four years later, dismissed.

Dozens of court days listed show numerous postponements and highlight a sluggish handling of the case, including lawyers missing in action, unexplained postponements and more.

Shoovaleka is claiming N$10 million for pain and suffering and N$1.2 million for loss of earnings during the ten years he spent in prison.

As part of the N$65 000 claim against the police, for various damages sustained to his Toyota Corolla impounded after his arrest, he noted a broken window and windshield, damage to the car's roof, a missing radio and that the vehicle is not working at all.

In an affidavit Shoovaleka said that although he is not a lawyer, and has a limited educational background, following his more than a decade ordeal, “I really felt that someone had to answer for what happened to me”.

The defendants listed include the head of state, the minister of safety and security, the inspector-general of the police, the attorney-general and the permanent secretary of the judiciary.

President Hage Geingob is listed as Shoovaleka's legal team argues that their court action is seeking to hold the state accountable, and the president is cited in his capacity as the head of state.

A joint status report filed at the Windhoek High Court noted that a number of issues are currently being debated that need to be clarified before the matter can proceed.

A government attorney has briefed South Africa counsel Geoff Budlender to act on the state's behalf to defend the matter.

JANA-MARI SMITH