Judge erupts over army threats

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High court Judge Semapo Peete
High court Judge Semapo Peete

Tefo Tefo

High Court judge, Justice Semapo Peete on Tuesday warned Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members against threatening lawyers, court officials and the public.

LDF members allegedly made the threats at the High Court on Thursday last week after they had brought some of their members for trial, incurring the wrath of the learned judge.

However, before dealing with a case involving the alleged unlawful arrest of army personnel by members of the LDF’s Military Intelligence (MI) on different occasions starting two weeks ago, Justice Peete decided to tackle the matter head-on.

“Before lunch hour on the 21st of May 2015 and after hearing cases involving Lance Corporal Molefi and Lance Corporal Jobo, and after making interim orders and having put counsel to terms, certain reports were made to me that certain words were uttered to some senior counsel.

“Threatening remarks were even made to members of the media and members of the public.

“I strongly deprecate unreservedly those unlawful threats. They are against our Basotho culture.

“And as a judge of this court for 18 years, I take strong exception to events which occurred both inside this courtroom and on the grounds of the Palace of Justice.

“It insults the dignity of this court. It also insults me as a judge. It is my duty to protect both the staff and legal practitioners who appear in this courtroom and I hope it happens to all other courtrooms.

“The general public also has the right to listen to proceedings of this court without any threats.

“Decorum and etiquette are our norm in this court. We value our integrity; maybe it’s because we are Basotho,” Justice Peete said.

The judge also called upon the government to ensure the courts are protected against attacks and intimidation by any violent people including members of the army.

“The government has a duty to protect the dignity of this court and bring anyone  who brings this court into disrepute, to order. People who think they can come here and intimidate others will be dealt with summarily by this court.”

Attorney Tumisang Mosotho – who was also a victim of the soldiers’ intimidation – told the judge that he initially wanted to withdraw from a case in which he wanted the court to order the release of Lance Corporal Motlatsi Makhabane from LDF detention.

“The last time I was before you, I had contemplated that due to those unfortunate incidents that occurred in your chambers, I should withdraw from the matter.

“But I reconsidered my position and thought it would be stupid of me if I withdrew only because of those unfortunate incidents. I therefore proceed on behalf of the applicant in this matter,” he said.

However, Attorney Mosotho told Justice Peete that he has to seek new instruction because Lance Corporal had already been released from LDF custody before the application to have him released could be argued in court.

“Lance Corporal Makhabane was released from detention sometime over the weekend.

“I haven’t met him. He looks uncomfortable to come to my office. I don’t want to withdraw the case now. May it should be put in abeyance,” he asked the judge.

In response, Justice Peete postponed the case to 2 June to allow the law to make the necessary consultation with his client.

Meanwhile, Lance Corporal Makhabane is one of the army officers who had been arrested and detained by the Military Intelligence over the past two weeks. The other officers are Lance Corporal Pitso William Molefi, Lance Corporal Toma Nehemiah Jobo, Lance Corporal Simon Koali, Lance Corporal Jane Makara and Sergeant Letlatsa Mokhobo.

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