Delayed justice lawsuit delayed again

Man demands N$11.3m in damages

22 July 2021 | Justice

JANA-MARI SMITH







WINDHOEK

A former taxi driver’s legal battle to be awarded millions in damages after he spent more than 10 years behind bars on charges he was found innocent of stretches on.

Petrus Shoovaleka’s lengthy embroilment with the legal system began in December 2005 when he was arrested on robbery charges.

By the time he was released from custody in July 2016, he had spent 10 years, five months and 29 days in prison as an innocent man.

He was finally released after his three-year trial - which only began seven years after his arrest - was concluded and found him not guilty on all charges.

Having filed a lawsuit in late 2017, Shoovaleka said he “really felt someone had to answer for what happened to me”.

Last year, the N$11.3 million lawsuit was heading for closure after Prosecutor-General Martha Imalwa’s legal team informed the court they were prepared to negotiate a settlement and not argue the case in a trial.

With the assistance of the Nixon Marcus Public Law office, he sued for damages based on a "wholesale failure of the criminal justice system”.

However, his hopes to finalise his lawsuit on a speedier basis than his previous encounter with the justice system crumbled mid-December last year, when Imalwa made a sudden U-turn, informing the court she had changed her mind and would be defending the case instead.

More time lost

Earlier this month, High Court judge Herman Oosthuizen ruled in Imalwa’s favour to file a late plea, which had been due in July 2020.

She argued that she did not file the plea as she had been advised by her lawyers to settle the matter instead, and only found out in December that there was a chance to win the case against Shoovaleka.

Also in December, shortly before Imalwa’s U-turn, government attorney Jabulani Ncube told the court that the only issue under negotiation was the amount to be paid to Shoovaleka.

“We did not plea because technically we admit to most of those indiscretions; the only issue is quantum.”

Oosthuizen ordered Imalwa to file her plea by 13 August, and ordered her to pay the costs incurred by Shoovaleka related to the late filing proceedings.

The judge added that Imalwa’s arguments that she was not aware of relevant case law pertaining to the matter was “astounding and alarming”.

Catastrophic failure

Shoovaleka fought strongly against allowing a late filing of Imalwa’s plea, saying her “unreasonable conduct only exacerbates and compounds the catastrophic failure of the system” at his expense.

The lawsuit seeks that the court order the Office of the Prosecutor-General to pay him N$11 247 917 in damages. Moreover, that the police pay him N$65 000 for the damage his taxi, a Toyota Corolla, sustained during its decade with the police after it was impounded in 2005.

The lawsuit names six defendants, including President Hage Geingob, Imalwa, the minister of safety and security, the inspector general of the police, the attorney general and the permanent secretary of the judiciary.

Unomwinjo Katjipuka-Sibolile is acting on behalf of Shoovaleka.