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Swazi commission backs Justice Ramodibedi

MASERU — The Swaziland Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has refused to entertain calls by Swazi lawyers to discipline Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi for allegedly sexually harassing colleagues and bringing the country’s judiciary into disrepute.
Justice Ramodibedi, who is also the president of Lesotho’s Court of Appeal as well as a Supreme Court judge in Botswana, came under attack from the Swazi lawyers following the suspension of Justice Thomas Masuku in June.
Justice Masuku is facing 12 charges. His alleged crimes include attacking King Mswati III in a 2010 judgment, insubordination, touting himself as the chief justice and having an affair with a fellow judge.
After the suspension of Justice Masuku Swazi lawyers accused Justice Ramodibedi, a Mosotho, of bringing the judiciary into disrepute.
The lawyers then approached JSC demanding the that Justice Ramodibedi should be removed as the chief justice because he had allegedly sexually harassed five female colleagues and abused government resources.
Justice Ramodibedi has rejected these allegations as an attempt by a “xenophobic group of lawyers” to block Justice Masuku’s disciplinary hearing.
In a statement released on Monday the JSC said it had rejected the lawyers’ allegations against Justice Ramodibedi.
It said the Law Society of Swaziland “acted irresponsibly in prejudging the judge’s investigation.”
The commission, which is chaired by Justice Ramodibedi, said Masuku’s suspension was constitutional. “It is, therefore, mischievous for the law society of Swaziland, the civic organisations, the Lawyers for Human Rights and the news media to claim that the judge was suspended by the Chief Justice,” the commission said.
“This is patently incorrect. This was done on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission,” it said.
The commission said the fact that the law society responded to Masuku’s investigation and suspension by lodging a complaint against Ramodibedi was “simply an attempt to derail the investigation of the judge by tarnishing the Chief Justice’s good name and reputation”.
“Otherwise there is no reasonable explanation why suddenly there were allegations of misbehaviour against the Chief Justice who has served this country impeccably in the highest court since 2006 to date,” the statement said.
“This is more so since, for example, there are no complainants in the alleged sexual offences.”
“No names of any victims are mentioned, obviously because they are non-existent.”
The commission said on August 2 it advised the law society that it should approach the King Mswati III first if it wanted to push for the chief justice’s removal.
“The law society was accordingly requested to withdraw the complaint and have it referred to the correct authority, if it so wished.”
“At that stage the commission was prepared to give the law society the benefit of doubt in the event it had a genuine complaint.”
The commission said on August 3 it received a copy of a letter the society had written to the Justice Minister, David Matse, and to the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission, Peter Mamba, instead of the King as advised.
The letter had also been copied to the parliament speaker and the senate president.
That letter, the commission said, “proves beyond reasonable doubt that the law society has no inkling about the basic constitutional concept of separation of powers and the independence of the Judiciary”.
The law society requested that the minister, the chairman of the civil service commission and the speaker of parliament to form an ad hoc committee to consider its complaints against Ramodibedi.
The commission said the law society’s attempt to set up that committee was “disingenuous and unconstitutional.”
The commission also accused minister Matse of holding secret meetings with the law society “behind the commission as well as launching the anti-Chief Justice campaign in South Africa and Mozambique in the company of the Law Society president, Titus Mlangeni”.
“This is a minister who is prepared to announce his intentions even before he is formally appointed to the ad hoc committee,” said the commission.
“It is that determination of his which has given the lawyers renewed courage to continue with their senseless boycott.”
“This must also be seen against the background fact that the lawyers have previously used the same minister to successfully block to date the tabling in parliament of the rules of the High Court promulgated by the Chief Justice.”
“In fact, while away on a recent Swaziland delegation to Mauritius, the minister phoned one of the proposed members of the ad hoc committee instructing him to go to His Majesty the King to remove the Chief Justice from office,” the commission added.
The law society does not have genuine complaints against Justice Ramodibedi, the commission said.
“What the law society is doing is to have trumped up charges of misbehaviour to hang over the Chief Justice’s head indefinitely in order to avert the investigations against the judge.”
The commission said it is appalled that lawyers, being officers of court, levelled “false allegations against the head of the judiciary in the country.”
“Not only have they brought the judiciary into disrepute but they are a discredit to the country,” it said.
“They should be ashamed of themselves if they have any modicum of decency left in them.” The commission said the lawyers’ boycotting of courts in objection to Ramodibedi’s position as Chief Justice was uncalled for and they were “guilty abandoning their clients.”
“Unless they refund clients’ monies they could be guilty of theft by false pretences.”
Last week the Law Society of Lesotho refused to condemn Justice Ramodibedi saying until Justice Masuku’s case has been finalised it considered it unwise to pass judgment on the issue.

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