Chief Justice to probe complaints against registrar

The decision to launch an investigation follows a heated meeting between the Chief Justice and the judges at his chambers last Friday. The meeting, which started at 10am and at ended 12 noon, was apparently a follow-up to a strongly worded letter that judges had written to the chief justice to complain about Sekoai’s professional conduct. A source with intimate knowledge of what happened in that meeting told the Lesotho Times that the judges told the chief justice that they had “had enough of Sekoai’s arrogant and disrespectful behaviour”. “The judges simply put their foot down and said they were tired of the registrar’s behaviour,” the source said on Tuesday. “They did not mince their words and it was shocking that none of them had nice things to say about the registrar. It was accusation after accusation.” The judges, the source said, “were clear that they wanted the registrar out as they had indicated in their letter”. “They also repeated their statement that there was an impression that the chief justice was overprotecting the registrar because they have been complaining about her for a long time but nothing has happened.” The source said the meeting was unprecedented both by “its candidness and the nature of the complaints raised”. The judges simply said they could not work with the current registrar anymore, the source added. He said the judges told the chief justice that Sekoai did not seem interested in dealing with their concerns. “The nonpayment of judges’ maids and gardeners was used to illustrate the allegation that the registrar did not take judges’ complaints seriously. The judges said they had told her about this matter a long time ago but she just did not deal with it.” Judges are entitled to have a gardener and maid paid by the state but for the past few years judges have had to foot their own bills. Another High Court source who also has details of the meeting said that “when he was cornered the chief justice tried to deflect the attention by complaining that the judges’ letter had been leaked to the Lesotho Times”. “He said because the letter has been leaked to the Lesotho Times this has put him in a tight spot. He wanted to know how the letter had leaked,” the source said. “But the judges would have none of that. They responded by asking if the chief justice would have dealt with their concerns immediately if the letter had not been leaked to the newspaper.”
He said the judges also told the chief justice that Sekoai was operating with a clique of staff that supported her policies to the detriment of the entire judicial system. This is the first time that a whole bench has complained against a registrar.
It is also the first time that judges have spoken so strongly to the chief justice. This paper understands that tempers have been simmering since last year. In their seven-page letter to the Chief Justice, dated November 17, the judges say they have “completely lost all faith, trust and confidence” in the registrar. “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,” the letter said. The judges accused Sekoai of shutting communication channels and blocking “necessary 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.” Judges accused Sekoai of failure to inform them of discussions around the issue of their security which seems “to have lost momentum without any explanation being given.”
“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 judges were referring to an incident in May when Justice Nthomeng Majara escaped death by a whisker when her sister’s lover shot the car they were travelling in before he shot himself dead. Justice Majara’s sister was hospitalised with a gunshot wound. “The judges indeed have a multitude of problems, grievances and concerns which need remedial action before things turn from bad to worse,” the letter warns. “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 complain that under Sekoai’s administration the state of the High Court and Court of Appeal is disturbing in that there is “lack of adequate supervision of staff and apparent disinterest in addressing serious concerns raised by the judges.” They described Sekoai “as most discourteous at times, disrespectful and unhelpful, oftentimes downright arrogant”. “There exists negative work ethic and low staff morale throughout the whole support staff with factions and gossip mongering abound.” “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 also complain that they have in the past raised these matters with the Chief Justice “on numerous occasions and to date this has borne no fruits.”

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