Shortage of judges to worsen

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  •  as Justices Peete and Moiloa retire next week

Mohalenyane Phakela

THE shortage of judges, which has contributed to the huge backlog of cases, is set to worsen with the retirement of Justices Semapo Peete and Teboho Moiloa on 31 July 2020.

Over the years, the judiciary has struggled to deal with the huge backlog of cases estimated at more than 4000 by judicial sources.

The problem is largely due to the shortage of judges. The situation has not been helped by the loss of judges through forced resignation or death over the past year.

There were 13 judges last year but the number came down to 11 after the death of Justice Maseshophe Hlajoane and the resignation of Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara. Justice Majara was forced to step down by then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane who had accused her of incompetence and failure to deal with the huge backlog of cases.

Last year’s promotion of then Magistrate Polo Banyane to acting judge meant there were now 12 judges.

But tragedy struck this year when two judges, Lebohang Molete and Lisebo Chaka-Makhooane died less than two months of each other.

Justice Molete died on 30 May 2020 while being ferried to Willies Hospital for treatment for complications arising from a recent stroke.

Justice Chaka-Makhooane died at Maseru Private Hospital on 14 July 2020. She died after contracting Coronavirus (Covid-19).

This means that there are currently 10 judges but the number will come down to just eight with next week’s retirements of Justices Peete and Moiloa.

There are no immediate plans by the government to replace the duo and appoint more judges to ease the backlog.

The principal secretary in the Ministry of Law and Justice, Retired Colonel Tanki Mothae, yesterday told the Lesotho Times that they were in the process of securing funds to recruit more judges and equip the judiciary.

He did not say when the process would be complete.

“The judiciary, as the other arm of state has to be fully functional, and it is the government’s duty to ensure that,” Rtd Col Mothae said.

“It is so unfortunate that we have lost two judges and others have reached the retirement age (75 years). However, you will remember that when the current Law minister (Professor Nqosa Mahao) assumed office (in May 2020), he vowed to capacitate the judiciary. We are in a process of securing funds to ensure that the judiciary is equipped and more judges will be recruited,” Col Mothae said.

Prof Mahao last month said he would table proposals to recruit more judges.

“Vacancies will have to be made public to allow everyone to compete for that position. All candidates will be interviewed in a transparent manner. We need to professionalise our judicial system by ensuring that appointees go through a transparent recruitment process to gain the public’s confidence,” Prof Mahao said.

Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase has also bemoaned the shortage of judges.

“The judiciary cannot function in this situation. This is a very serious crisis and to make matters worse, our budget keeps on being cut.

“We, in the judiciary, are in perpetual panic mode whenever the national budget speech and allocations are delivered in parliament. We are forever treated by successive governments as the proverbial whipping boys and poorest cousins of the three organs of state,” Justice Mahase said at the official opening of the High Court last year.

She echoed similar sentiments when the High Court officially opened in February this year. Her pleas have thus far not been heeded by the government.

 

 

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