VARIOUS Commonwealth judicial bodies have rallied behind Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara against a bid by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s coalition to oust her from office.
The Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA), the Commonwealth Legal Education Association (CLEA) and the Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association (CMJA) this week condemned the bid to oust the chief justice saying it flew in the face of Lesotho’s commitments to the organisation of former British colonies.
They issued a joint statement in the wake of Dr Thabane’s demand that Justice Majara should ‘show cause’ why she should not be impeached over alleged misconduct.
Dr Thabane wrote to Justice Majara on 27 April 2018 asking her to show cause why she should not be impeached for alleged misconduct over various transgressions including failure to deliver justice timeously as well as her controversial M27 000 per month housing deal which is said to be way above the authorized limit.
The three Commonwealth judicial bodies said they fully backed a statement of the Southern African Chief Justices Forum of 7 May 2018 which backed Justice Majara and which underscored the importance of an independent and impartial judiciary in ensuring the rule of law.
They said by virtue of its membership of the Commonwealth, Lesotho was bound by the shared values of the organization, at the core of which was a shared belief in democratic principles including an independent and impartial judiciary.
“Any measure on the part of the Executive which is capable of being seen as eroding the independence and impartiality of the judiciary is a matter of serious concern and will erode public confidence in the legal system as a whole,” the CLA, CLEA and CMJA’s joint statement said.
The three bodies reminded Lesotho that Commonwealth rules – known as Latimer House principles – required disciplinary proceedings which could lead to the removal of a judicial officer to have appropriate safeguards to ensure fairness. These safeguards required the judicial officer in question to be fully informed of the charges against them, to be represented at any hearing and to be judged by an independent and impartial tribunal.
These Commonwealth rules required judges to only be removed or suspended for reasons of incapacity or misbehavior that clearly rendered them unfit to discharge their duties.
“The three Commonwealth bodies urge the government to abide by the constitutional provisions, natural justice and due process in order to safeguard the independence of the judiciary.
“In particular the government is urged to respect by the provisions in the commonwealth principles which govern the relationship between the three branches of government and are a cornerstone of the commonwealth values,” the joint statement further reads.