Chief Justice’s speech skirted burning issues

IN HIS address to officially open the High Court session for this year on Tuesday, Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla to his credit pointed out the numerous problems hampering the delivery of justice in Lesotho.

He noted that “an adequately resourced judiciary is the champion of people’s aspirations and interests, acting as a mediator in the struggle for liberty and fair play”.

He could not have put it more aptly.

A well-resourced judiciary is independent enough to discharge its duties and is not beholden to the interests of a few and powerful cliques in society.

We certainly agree with the chief justice that Lesotho needs such a robust and independent judiciary to uphold the rule of law and strengthen our nascent democracy.

However, we note that the chief justice’s speech was completely silent on numerous other issues that we think merit the government’s urgent attention.

It is important that these issues are forcefully brought into the public arena for debate.

It is precisely for this reason why this newspaper has been at the forefront in highlighting the serious problems that are haunting the judiciary sector.

We are proud to have done so with almost missionary zeal.

We are however perturbed that Justice Mahapela elected to skirt some of the burning issues affecting our judiciary.

What we heard from him was almost a sanitised and rather mild version of the problems in our judiciary.

We expected a much more cogent argument. We expected a more robust condemnation of the current situation where the judiciary has to literally beg for basic resources.

This is the same judiciary which almost ground to a halt last year because the courts had run out of funds.

The judiciary sector was so broke that it ran out of basics such as pens, printing paper and cartridges.

Files, stamps and recording tapes, flash disks and CDs were also in short supply.

The judiciary was in a virtual state of paralysis.

Several of our High Court judges were also forced to hitch-hike after their official vehicles broke down with the government failing to provide them with replacement vehicles.

One judge, Justice Maseforo Mahase, was embarrassingly forced to use a taxi after her official vehicle broke down.

Such humiliation was uncalled for.

Although the government has bought new vehicles for High Court judges it must still look at improving the conditions of service for all judicial officers.

At present we seem to have unhappy judges on the bench if the grumblings that we hear are anything to go by.

They are complaining about low salaries and poor working conditions.

Our judges are said to be the lowest paid within the southern Africa region.

We all know that a poorly remunerated bench makes it susceptible to corruption.

We think these are the problems that Justice Lehohla should have forcefully expounded during his address on Tuesday.

But what we heard was a mild version of the crisis in the judiciary.

It is also clear that government is starving the courts of basic resources.

Justice Lehohla should have taken the opportunity to bring these matters to the public’s attention and seek an immediate redress.

These problems must be resolved if the people’s confidence in the judiciary is not to be undermined.

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