Chief Justice under fire

MASERU — A senior legal officer has called for the removal of the Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla as chairman of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). 

Sakoane Sakoane who is the director general of the Judicial Training Office was testifying to the Commission of Inquiry set up by the Law Society of Lesotho to investigate the state of the judiciary. 

The commission was set up to investigate “any possible corrupt, unprofessional, unethical and unjudicial practices that may have crept into the judicial system”.  

“We should get rid of the JSC chairman (Chief Justice Lehohla), his flock is public servants,” Sakoane said.

“Short of that we are merely politicising the judiciary, we need an independent and functioning Judicial Service Commission,” he said.

The JSC is responsible for appointing judges to the bench.

It is made up of the Attorney General, the chairman of the Public Service Commission and a judge appointed by the Chief Justice who is also the chairman of the commission.

Lawyers have in the past criticised the composition of the JSC saying it was tilted in favour of the state.

Sakoane also criticised the current constitution of the bench.

He said this “is the only judiciary where judges have been appointed from clerks, magistrates and registrars of the High Court”.

“I think if you are an independent, robust lawyer, you don’t stand the chance of being appointed (to become a judge), not because you are not strong but because you are not politically correct,” Sakoane said.

“If you want independent and robust people you have to look at practising lawyers. Judges know us (lawyers).”

Sakoane also blasted some judges for not delivering their judgments on time.

“We have judges who do not write judgments. These judges must be held accountable by parliament. This can only happen if the Law Society is also involved. There is no place for cowards in the legal profession.”

He said there was a need to overhaul the judiciary system in Lesotho.

He said some of the appointment to the High Court against the clear provisions of the constitution under section 120. .

Subsection (3)  (a) states of section 120 of the constitution states that a person shall be appointed to be a judge if one holds a specified qualifications for a total of not less than five years.

“We do not know who they are and where they come from, and some of them are appointed despite their cases pending in the magistrates’ courts.”

He said there is no point in appointing people to the bench without consulting lawyers through their organisation – the Law Society of Lesotho.

He said what is needed is the quality of personnel to man the courts and not quantity. 

On the question of postponements of cases in the High Court, Sakoane said lawyers were partly to blame.

He however said it was unfair to lay the blame solely on the lawyers because they were just taking advantage of the weak judiciary system.

He said lawyers were trained to take advantage of the system.

He said he could not understand why a judicial officer who grants postponements should turn around and blame lawyers.

“It is the function of the judicial officer to ensure the administration of the judicial system, the practice of accountability should be reflected in the timely delivery of judgments. Some judges do not write judgments,” said Sakoane.

Sakoane said he was aware that the Law Society has in the past raised concerns about the constitution of the JSC.

He said the society was also concerned that some decisions were being made without consultation.

 He said lack of confidence in the courts had a serious impact on the democracy of a country and the rule of law.

“Peaceful resolution of disputes is necessary for development,” he said warning that if people are disappointed by the state they will resort to self-help means, which is the opposite of the rule of law.

He said there were structural problems in the system.

He said lawyers were not given induction courses when they come from the university hence the confusion in the system.

“The Law Society should not let loose young lawyers on the public, I think there is something that needs to be done in that regard.”

He also criticised the politicisation of the judiciary system.

He said it is not only members of the opposition who complain about this problem. “Even members of the ruling party complain about the administration of the justice.”

Today Member of Parliament and leader of the Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC) Kelebone Maope who is also a senior lawyer will testify.

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