Justice Semapo Peete on Monday recused himself from a case in which Corporal Montsuoe Motseko is fighting for his release from detention.
The judge said he decided to recuse himself from the case following the publication of a story titled ‘Court rules in favour of detained soldier’ in the Lesotho Times last week.
In the story, the Lesotho Times reported that Justice Peete had already made a determination in the case when all he had done was advise the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) counsel to advice his clients that the reasons for detaining Corporal Motseko were invalid and would not stand.
Corporal Motseko is being detained at the Maximum Security Prison for “false” statements he allegedly made in the High Court against Major Sechele Bulane and Lieutenant-Colonel Thato Phaila.
By allegedly making the statements against the officers on 27 July 2015, Corporal Motseko “contravened Section 78 (b) of the LDF Act”, his Court Martial charge sheet reads.
In his urgent application before the High Court, Corporal Motseko is praying that his detention be declared unlawful “ab initio”.
He also wants the court to order the LDF to unconditionally release him and never interfere with his “right to liberty”.
However, the judge told Corporal Motseko’s lawyer, Advocate Tumisang Mosotho and Advocate Leholi Motikoe who represents the LDF in the case, the reason for recusal was that the Lesotho Times had “prejudiced the court process” through publication of the story.
Justice Peete told the lawyers that the publication had put him in a predicament.
“The report in that issue of December 24-30 was pre-emptive because the matter was still sub judice. I had not made a decision on the merits and demerits of the case but was only advising the counsel on position of law. What the story has done is to tilt the scales of justice,” said Justice Peete.
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He also noted that the story created a perception or an impression that the court had already made a decision when it had merely advised the counsels on the concept of judicial privileges.
The Lesotho Times unreservedly apologises for the inconvenience the publication of the story has caused Justice Peete and the two parties involved in the case.