Caprivi treason trialists get legal aid

In a landmark decision, the Namibian Supreme Court has ruled that 128 people accused of high treason, murder and a number of other crimes, must be provided with legal aid by the government.

The decision, handed down on Friday, is the unanimous conclusion of the three judges who heard the case.

The Namibian government has been opposed to spending taxpayers' money on funding the defence of the treason trialists, arrested for alleged secessionist activities in Caprivi.

The court said that it would be disastrous if it was later found that the accused did not have a fair hearing because they were not legally represented.

After making the ruling, Deputy Prosecutor-General Lourens Campher, told The Namibian newspaper that the trial would start once the defence was ready to proceed.

Facing an unusually large number of charges, with some 500 or more witnesses for the prosecution, the trial is expected to last years.

Chief Justice Strydom noted that the constitution guaranteed the right to a fair trial. The constitution also placed a duty on government to respect and uphold all the fundamental rights and freedoms contained in the country's supreme law, he said.

The order has been welcomed by a number of human rights organisations, concerned at the prospect of a complex, major trial in which not a single accused would have had the benefit of legal representation.