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THE Law Society of Lesotho recently elected its new five-member council for a one-year term. Among other responsibilities, the Law Society is mandated with overseeing the conduct of all legal practitioners in the country in terms of the Legal Practitioners Act and the Law Society Act of 1983. The council supervises the organisation’s mandate and objectives.
In this wide-ranging interview, Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, speaks with Attorney Nonnie Da Silva-Manyokole who has been elected Law Society secretary-general for the third time in a row. Among other issues, Attorney Da Silva-Manyokole addresses allegations of political divisions and non-compliance by some lawyers within the regulatory body as well as the current political situation in the country in as far as the Law Society is concerned.
LT: Can you briefly tell us about the process of electing a Law Society council?
Da Siva-Manyokole: The Law Society of Lesotho Council was elected by the members of the organisation on 21 October 2016. Attorney Tumisang Mosotho is the new president. The vice-president is Advocate Christopher Lephuthing. I am the secretary-general. The treasurer is Attorney Moshoeshoe Mokaloba and Advocate Nthati Pheko is an ordinary member. The handover from the previous Law Society Council was very smooth because both the previous and the new councils met and made an agreement to work hand-in-hand for the furtherance of the mandate of the Law Society. Upon the sitting of the new council, we resolved that in order for the Law Society to work effectively, we needed to establish various committees, which means the council is going to involve members who are going to take part as members of the committees. On 17 November 2016, we held a general meeting whereby the members unanimously agreed to establish the different committees.
LT: Tell us about these committees.
Da Silva-Manyokole: The first one is the Disciplinary Committee, which will assist the council in hearing the disciplinary complaints lodged by the public against any legal practitioner; and that is the mandate of the Law Society to hear complaints by the public or to make inquiries on their own of the conduct or dishonourable conduct by any legal practitioner. And when they find that such a conduct results in misconduct, which is provided for in the Legal Practitioners Act of 1983, then one of many sanctions may be imposed on that particular practitioner. So, that committee is going to be very useful in furthering the mandate of the Law Society. In fact, as a result of a large number of complaints that we have received, the council has decided to have at least four sub-committees each consisting of three members of the Law Society who will sit and make inquiries and make a determination or recommendation as they have heard the evidence of both the legal practitioner and the complainant.
LT: What are some examples of acts of misconduct by the legal practitioners?
Da Silva-Manyokole: One of the misconducts is accepting money from the client and failing, or delaying going to court in one instance, or actually not even performing in terms of the mandate given by the client. So, whenever there are such cases, members of the public come to the Law Society Council and lodge a complaint. We then, normally, write a letter to that particular practitioner to ‘show cause’ why he or she cannot be disciplined. If the council is not satisfied with his or her explanation, such a legal practitioner is then called to the Disciplinary Committee. The committee will give recommendations to the council. The council will either approve or dismiss the recommendations.
LT: What are the other committees?
Da Silva-Manyokole: The second one is the Entertainment Committee because we have realised that we don’t have enough functions that help unite lawyers in a leisurely manner. All we do every day is to go to court, but we never come to meet in a relaxed and social setting. We are going to also have a committee that will be mandated with the role of producing publications and organizing workshops. In terms of the objectives of the Law Society, we are mandated to have libraries, publications and contribute in the law reforms of the country. That committee will deal with most of the objectives contained in section four of our Law Society Act of 1983. We are also going to have a committee which we term ‘Operation Hlasela’. This committee is also going to be useful in helping the Law Society control or regulate the profession because we have realised there are lawyers who are admitted but don’t comply with the Legal Practitioners Act. Those lawyers, for instance, do not have offices. They consult and accept monies from clients without even opening trust accounts. So this committee will be tasked with going to the districts and finding all those legal practitioners who don’t comply; taking their names and submitting the list before the courts of law so they are barred from representing clients in the courts. That’s what the committee will do. The reason behind this is that, in the previous Law Societies there were strategies in place, but when it came to execution it was quite difficult because there are only five members in the council. The committees will be chaired by one of the council members to ensure there is compliance in terms of the mandate of the Law Society.
LT: What exactly do you hope to achieve with these committees?
Da Silva-Manyokole: With the establishment of the committees, we are going to get more results. We need to have publications. There has to be a newsletter that reports on all the matters that have occurred in relation to the courts and the Law Society.
LT: You have briefly touched on some of the functions of the Law Society. What else is the Law Society mandated to do?
Da Silva-Manyokole: We admit attorneys and advocates. We prepare and set legal examinations as per the Legal Practitioners Act. We also want to deal with the issue of law reforms because we have realised that the Legal Practitioners Act of 1983 is very old. The Law Society Act of 1983 will also be scrutinised. There are some clauses that need to be repealed.
LT: Recently, but before tenure of the new council, the Law Society was accused of failing to take action against alleged human rights infractions on some of your members and the media. What do you say to that?
Da Silva-Manyokole: There is a rumour that the previous Law Society Council did not take action with regards to the arrest of Attorney Khotso Nthontho, the situation of Advocate ’Mole Kumalo and the shooting of Lesotho Times and Sunday Express Editor Lloyd Mutungamiri. With regards to the arrest of Attorney Nthontho, the previous council upon hearing that Mr Nthontho was arrested lodged an urgent application for his immediate release. We were also present at the police station to ensure he was safely released. I will assure you that we were there until around 12 o’clock midnight and we were satisfied the whole time, before leaving to our respective homes, that indeed he was released and he was safe. With regard to his release, we also communicated with our counterparts in South Africa who also intervened and communicated with Attorney Nthontho. This was a similar case with Advocate Kumalo where we invited our counterparts in South Africa and elsewhere in the world. For instance, the American Bar Association was here. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Lawyers Association was also present. We interacted with them with regard to the situation that was prevailing. So indeed the Law Society was actively involved in those instances. However, on the shooting of Mr Mutungamiri, the Law Society did not make a statement. However, this should not mean that we accepted the shooting. Even today, we still are regretting the fact that we did not make a statement because indeed what transpired was a criminal act that should have been investigated. Silencing the media and lawyers defeats of the ends of justice because in the Constitution of Lesotho we have freedom of speech and right to legal representation. Any kind of threat or intimidation to those people is interfering with the constitution.
LT: There are also allegations of serious divisions within the Law Society influenced by different political affiliations. How true is this?
Da Silva-Manyokole: Lawyers and any resident of Lesotho are entitled to be affiliated with any political party. I think that allegation is a bit misplaced because concrete facts were not disclosed. Basically, what is happening in the Law Society cannot be termed as division because the Law Society is a regulator. We are regulating the performance of the legal practitioners. If, for instance, some legal practitioners choose not to attend some meetings, we cannot necessarily say they are divided. What we realised was that some lawyers felt excluded; that is why we have devised means of having interaction with the body of the Law Society. I cannot say the allegation of division is true. We cannot say in certain terms that the reason why some legal practitioners don’t attend meetings is because of their political affiliations. We want the Law Society to include most of its members in everything we do.
LT: There was also an issue of some of the senior lawyers, calling themselves the Big five (King’s Counsel Motiea Teele, Salemane Phafane, Zwelakhe Mda, Karabo Mohau and Attorney Qhalehang Letsika) who did not see eye-to-eye with the Law Society on the appointment of Dr Kananelo Mosito as president of the Court of Appeal. The Law Society even distanced itself from the Big Five’s statement which was against the appointment. Have you resolved that issue?
Da Silva-Manyokole: Not necessarily. I think the issue of the Big Five is still a very complex issue. We did not associate ourselves with what they did at the time. On the other hand, it seemed they also did not want to associate themselves with the Law Society. They had their own ideas which they felt we would not understand. They found it necessary to go on their own and further an agenda they had. But with regard to them paying subscriptions with the Law Society, they are still our members. The fact that we can regulate them, call and discipline them if there is any contravention of the Legal Practitioners Act, shows we still have that power. I don’t think there is any bad blood between us. If they may not want to associate with us, it has not been through non-paying of the subscription or disobeying any Law Society rules and regulations. The fact of the matter is they segregated themselves from us. We still call upon the Big Five to rejoin us. You will also realise that they are our seniors; so we still need their wisdom and guidance.
LT: There is evident division within the main-ruling Democratic Congress (DC). Section 3.2.6 of the party constitution allows for the party to call for intervention from any of the four organisations, including the Law Society. What is your position regarding the DC issue?
Da Silva-Manyokole: If we are invited, as the section allows, we wouldn’t refuse. If it is in law for us to be in attendance and give our advice and guidance we are open to that. In the meantime we are still watching and putting our ear on the ground. So far, we have not really sat down to pronounce ourselves. Basically, we are still spectators like anybody else because we have not been invited for any advisory role. As the Law Society, I think there will be a time when we will pronounce ourselves especially if the administration of justice is threatened.