MASERU — High Court judges have ganged up against the registrar of the High Court and Court of Appeal ’Mathato Sekoai and are pushing for her ouster.
The Lesotho Times understands that 10 out of the 12 High Court judges have written a letter to Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla demanding that Sekoai be redeployed elsewhere.
The judges accuse Sekoai of being arrogant and disrespectful towards them saying that “her deployment elsewhere will be in the best interests of the general effectiveness of the entire judiciary.”
Only Justice Kananelo Mosito of the Labour Appeal Court and Justice David Lyons of the Commercial Court did not append their signatures to the letter.
In the seven-page letter addressed to Justice Lehohla dated November 17 the judges say they have “completely lost all faith, trust and confidence in” Sekoai.
“Surely His Lordship will agree that this is unprecedented as there have been several registrars before her against whom judges have never felt so strongly and/or noted such concerns,” reads part of the letter seen by the Lesotho Times.
The judges accuse Sekoai of blocking communication and interaction between the judges on the one hand and the Honourable Chief Justice and the registrar on the other.
“We also note with concern that though annually budgeted for, international travel no longer benefits the entire bench as used to be the case in the past and this needs to be addressed to promote equal opportunities for all judges,” the letter says.
“In recent times, only His Lordship and the registrar have enjoyed the said benefit. In those few exceptional cases where they have travelled, the judges have had to travel economy class due to budgetary constraints which unfortunately do not seem to affect His Lordship and the registrar.”
The judges accused Sekoai of failing to inform them about discussions around the issue of their security.
“This issue still remains a priority for us as in the future, we might not get as lucky as one of us did in May this year,” the letter says.
The judges were referring to an attack in May in which Justice Nthomeng Majara escaped death by a whisker when her sister’s boyfriend attacked the judge and her sister in Maseru West.
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Justice Majara’s sister was hospitalised with a gunshot wound.
The judges said they had a number of grievances that need remedial action “before things turn from bad to worse”.
“The apparent failure and lack of interest to address these will ultimately bring about the gradual collapse of the judiciary as an organ so vital under the Constitution. No wonder morale is so low amongst the judges.”
The judges said under Sekoai’s administration conditions had deteriorated due to lack of supervision of staff and apparent disinterest to address issues raised by judges.
They said they were concerned with Sekoai’s attitude “which can be described as most discourteous at times, disrespectful and unhelpful, oftentimes downright arrogant”.
“It is our feeling that the registrar should be reminded of her true status in relation to the judges of the High Court to whom she owes and must demonstrate respect and courtesy,” the judges said.
“She must be accessible to all judges at all times and when exigencies of judicial work so demand.
“There exists negative work ethic and low staff morale throughout the whole support staff with factions and gossip mongering abound,” they charged.
“Absenteeism, truancy, laziness, carelessness and corrupt practices are now common. There is also no transparency, openness and accountability concerning crucial and important issues affecting the judiciary such as how new appointments to the bench are made.
“Staff movement is also done clandestinely. All these sow seeds of mutual distrust and of possibly dividing the entire judiciary into factions.”
The judges said they had in the past raised these issues with the chief justice but their attempts had been rebuffed.
“There is over-protectiveness towards the registrar, vis-à-vis the judges when her shortcomings are being pointed out,” they said.
“This does not augur well for the judges’ relations with the registrar.”
The judges’ bid to oust Sekoai comes barely a month after chief magistrates and the president of the Labour Court spoke out against a restructuring exercise that they said sought to elevate Sekoai to a senior managerial post that is above them.
Under the newly enacted Administration of Judicial Act 2011, Sekoai will be expected to coordinate the administration and supervision of the entire judiciary including the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
The magistrates argued that Sekoai lacked the experience to enjoy precedence over the chief magistrate and the President of the Labour Court.
The senior magistrates say the new law is unconstitutional and want it revoked.
Sekoai yesterday said she would not respond to the judges’ complaints in newspapers.
“I will not exchange words with my superiors and will not talk about the issues in the newspapers,” Sekoai said. “There is a proper forum to raise such concerns.”