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Lawyers withhold services, boycott court sessions

Mohalenyane Phakela

THE Law Society of Lesotho has resolved that its members should withhold services from clients and boycott court proceedings to force the judiciary to reconsider its decision to suspend the April session of the Court of Appeal.

The boycott is with effect from 16 to 24 April 2019 and the lawyers will also use the period to engage stakeholders who include the Acting Chief Justice, ‘Maseforo Mahase, and Court of Appeal president, Kananelo Mosito.

The lawyers will also use the period to engage magistrates who are currently on a go-slow strike in an effort to find solution to their long-standing grievances for higher salaries and improved working conditions.

The lawyers’ boycott was announced by the Law Society’s president, Advocate Tekane Maqakachane, at the High Court on Monday.

The High Court Registrar, Pontšo Phafoli, recently told this publication that the suspension of the Court of Appeal’s April session which was due to begin on Monday was caused by the simple issue of the shortage of funds for its operations.

However, there are widespread allegations that the suspension was a politically motivated decision aimed at ensuring that the new All Basotho Convention’s national executive committee (ABC’s NEC) does not appeal to the apex court in the event that it loses its High Court dispute with party’s old NEC.

The ABC’s old and new NECs are locked in a legal battle after the old NEC refused to accept the results of the party’s elective conference which ushered in National University of Lesotho (NUL) Vice Chancellor Professor Nqosa Mahao as the deputy leader.

In February, three ABC legislators Habofanoe Lehana (Khafung constituency), Keketso Sello (Hlotse) and Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe) filed a High Court application seeking the nullification of the ABC’s NEC elections. The trio argue that the polls were marred by vote rigging and wants the court to order fresh elections within three months of the finalisation of their application. Prof Mahao has already indicated that he and the rest of the new NEC will appeal to the Court of Appeal should they lose the case which could be finalised anytime from this week.

Sources within the ABC said last week’s decision to suspend the April session of the apex court which was supposed to have started tomorrow was done to ensure that the new NEC does not take its case to the apex court.

Adv Maqakachane said in resolving to withhold services from clients and boycott court proceedings, the lawyers had no political motives and they had acted out of concern that the closure of the Court of Appeal paralysed the justice system.

“The situation of the non-functioning of the Court of Appeal needs immediate attention but the magistrate have been able to function in those dire conditions,” Adv Maqakachane said. He said this in response to claims that they were only boycotting proceedings because they had political interests in the affairs of the apex court and paid no attention to the concerns of the magistrates.

“The wheel of justice is not turning fully because it means from the lower courts, our clients will reach a dead end when they need to appeal.

“The Court of Appeal is ready to function but we were told it is being suspended due to lack of funds. It is not the business of the Law Society to determine how the money is sourced. It is the sole responsibility of the executive to avail money and as to how they do it, it is up to them.”

His sentiments were echoed by the deputy president of Law Society, Adv Lehlohonolo Matee. Adv Matee is the lawyer of the defendants in the ABC case.

He said that the lawyers “do not belong to any faction of the ABC but want to see the judiciary functioning at the full 360 degrees”.

“The Law Society has the primary function to protect the judiciary which when dysfunctional, the country cannot have a proper administration of justice or rule of law.

“We only learned through the go-slow of the Magistrates that their grievances were no longer being resolved so that is another issue which was discussed in an urgent meeting which we were forced to have this morning (Monday).

“Members this (Monday) morning resolved that the council (of the Law Society) should engage the Acting Chief Justice, the Court of Appeal President and the High Court Registrar on the issue of the Court of Appeal. We will also engage the stakeholders on the magistrates’ issues for a solution.

“While the negotiations are ongoing, members have reached a harsh decision to boycott all legal representation from 16 to 24 April. A special meeting will be held on 24 April determine whether we continue with the boycott or not.

“We do now want to deny our clients justice but this is the harsh decision we had to take to fight for a complete circle of justice,” Adv Matee said.

However, another member of the Law Society, Advocate Qhalehang Letsika, said it was wrong for lawyers to boycott court proceedings. He said instead they should have sued for the opening of the Court of Appeal.

“The Court of Appeal had been dysfunctional for close to two years and the Law Society engaged us as its members and we fought a legal battle to have it opened.

“I agree that the Court of Appeal has to function for justice to be fully served but the boycott is the wrong decision. As lawyers we should use the courts to fight for justice and they should have engaged us to file a case for the apex court to be reopened,” Adv Letsika said.

The April session was supposed to start on Monday and run till the end of the month. It was supposed to hear 29 cases.

The Court of Appeal resumed its sittings in November 2018 after almost two years of absence due to long-drawn legal battles over who should be the court’s president.

Justice Mosito, who had been re-appointed to the post on 1 August 2017, was finally sworn-in in November 2018 after a Court of Appeal judgement which nullified a February 2018 Constitutional Court ruling which had set aside his re-appointment.

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