AFTER one of the most lengthy and grueling trials in Namibian history, former Supreme Court judge Pio Teek has finally been acquitted on all counts of sexual misbehavior first laid against him in January 2005. This week’s Supreme Court decision clearing him completely pointed out examples of shoddy work in the case by police investigators and others, and warned that the “systemic failures” evident in the case brought the system of criminal justice into disrepute. It could result “in a travesty of justice”, said the judges. Though the criminal case has now come to an end, there is a strong likelihood that former Judge Teek will sue over the charges and the state’s handling of the matter.
Read the judgment here on NamibLII
AS was only proper, the final stage of former judge Pio Teek’s case was heard by three senior judges from outside Namibia. Two of the bench, Judges Bess Nkabinde and Yvonne Mokgoro are former members of SA’s highest court, and the third, Judge Maruping Dibotelo, retired as Botswana’s chief justice earlier this year.
It has been a long and difficult road for Judge Teek, 71, since he was first charged with a variety of sexual offences in January 2005. A member of Namibia’s Supreme Court, he took early retirement, aged 58, after he was suspended following his arrest.
That issue – the length of time it has taken to complete the trial and ensure justice was finally done – was one of the first to be mentioned by the Supreme Court bench. Judge Nkabinde, who wrote the decision with the unanimous agreement of her two colleagues, said, “The most disquieting feature of this case is the prolonged delay in bringing it to finality.” But while the delay was “regretted”, Judge Teek had not cross-appealed in the matter and so the question of whether his right to a speedy and fair trial was violated was not properly before the court.
“But even if we are not deciding this question, it needs to be stressed that the disposition of a criminal trial as reasonably expeditiously as possible is a hallmark of a civilized criminal justice system.” While Judge Teek had at least been on bail throughout, “one cannot discount a mental strain he has had to endure over almost 13 years”.
The case involved two young girls, T and Q, who claimed that the judge had taken them back to his home, given them food, plied them with alcohol and then raped and/or otherwise sexually interfered with them.
He said that the children told him they were hungry and that he had taken them to his home to give them food as he felt sorry for them. They then watched television, and though he had meant to take them back to their parents at that point, he fell asleep because of anti-histamine tablets he had taken along with some alcohol. He only returned them to their parents the following morning.
At the end of the state’s case, Judge Teek successfully applied to be discharged. The state however appealed against his discharge and the Supreme Court upheld the appeal, saying the trial had to go ahead. When the high court completed the hearing however it found him not guilty and acquitted him. That acquittal decision was in turn appealed at the Supreme Court, and this week’s decision was in response to the appeal.
Revisiting the evidence heard by the trial court, the appeal judges found many examples of where the two girls had contradicted each other. They had also contradicted themselves repeatedly. There was also no help from medical and forensic specialists because proper protocol was not followed, documents were tampered with, and investigations were delayed so that fingerprints could not be obtained, for example.
There were “many major shortcomings” in the state’s case both in relation to the evidence of the children and the medical reports, described by the three judges as “highly suspicious and unreliable”. The Supreme Court was further strongly critical of the way the police handled the medical examinations and approved the approach of the trial court in questioning the resulting evidence.
The judges devoted a separate section of the decision to consider and list some of a number of irregularities in the conduct of the investigation. They said these irregularities showed “how the sub-standard investigative process by the police may be destructive to the criminal justice system”. These problems included that police who handled the case “were selective in the investigative processes”. They did not follow standard procedures and the failings were “deplorable”, said the court. Other “unacceptable selective investigative shortcomings” included the fact that video recordings taken during the search and arrest were not presented to the court because it did not provide anything of use to convict Judge Teek.
The court unanimously dismissed the state’s appeal and confirmed the High Court’s acquittal of Judge Teek on all the charges he faced.
Commenting on the outcome in The Namibian, Judge Teek said justice had been done “at last”, saying that eventually he was a free man. He wanted to bring legal action as soon as possible against the state for the charges and the resulting prosecution.
Whether he does sue or not, the case is an alarming example of how things go wrong if proper procedures are not followed, evidence is not properly obtained and the court is presented with skewed evidence. When this is coupled with inexplicable delays, the trial of Judge Teek must be seen as a dark moment in Namibia’s prosecution – and legal – history.