CHIEF Justice Sakoane Sakoane this week expelled Lesotho Times’ senior legal journalist, Mohalenyane Phakela, from a Constitutional Court hearing he was presiding over.
This was shortly after Mr Phakela and other journalists had on Tuesday taken their seats in the courtroom ahead of the hearing of Mokhotlong legislator, Tefo Mapesela’s application for an order compelling the speaker of parliament, Sephiri Motanyane, to allow a secret ballot when voting on a proposed no confidence motion against Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro.
Justice Sakoane is the presiding judge in the matter alongside Justices Molefi Makara and Polo Banyane.
Before the matter could proceed, Justice Sakoane ordered all the journalists in the courtroom to identify themselves.
Mr Phakela was the first to introduce himself and the chief justice immediately ordered him to leave, saying he did not want the Lesotho Times “in my courtroom”.
Mr Phakela then asked what the problem was and Justice Sakoane insisted that he should never come to court until the Lesotho Times editor, Herbert Moyo, had apologised to him.
He did not say what had actually angered him. Mr Phakela only learnt yesterday from the Court of Appeal and High Court Registrar, ‘Mathato Sekoai, that Justice Sakoane had been offended by the publication’s satirical columnist, Scrutator, in her commentary published last week.
Titled, “What type of country have we become?”, the column urged Justice Sakoane “to urgently take the nation into his confidence and explain what is happening in the judiciary he leads”.
This after the chief justice and the government had blamed each other for the failure to renew Judge Charles Hungwe’s contract which had expired on 31 October 2021. Justice Hungwe is the only foreign judge still presiding over the high-profile trials of politicians, serving and former members of the security agencies.
The expiry of his contract had thrown his cases into limbo. Justice Sakoane, who heads the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), had accused the government of failing to provide funds to enable them to pay Justice Hungwe’s salary hence the failure to renew his contract. Law and Justice Minister, Lekhetho Rakuoane, replied that this was a matter for the JSC to sort out with the European Union (EU). This was because Justice Hungwe had been recruited by the JSC and his salary was paid by the EU and not by the Lesotho government. It was on that basis that the satirical column had called on Justice Sakoane to explain what was exactly going on.
The column had satirically stated that because of the contrasting versions – either the chief justice or Minister Rakuoane was being “economical with the truth” despite Justice Sakoane having vowed that Basotho deserved to know the truth. Justice Hungwe’s contract has since been extended to 28 February 2022.
Mr Phakela’s expulsion on Tuesday was not completely a surprise because earlier in the week, three police officers stationed at the High Court had informed him that they were under instructions to bar him from any of the court sessions until the Lesotho Times had apologised.
However, the officers did not explain what the requested apology was for. One of them accompanied Mr Phakela to Registrar Adv Sekoai’s office to seek clarity on the matter. Adv Sekoai then said the issue would be addressed in court. Mr Phakela was allowed entry into court on Monday to cover other proceedings presided over by Justice Hungwe.
Nothing was said about the matter in court that day. It was on the following day that Mr Phakela learnt from Justice Sakoane that he was unwelcome until the Lesotho Times had apologised to him.