THE government has accused Amnesty International and the Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association of peddling “sensational, propagandist and unfounded statements” over the recent suspension of Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara.
This follows statements the two organisations made to the effect that the decision to suspend Justice Majara threatened the independence of the judiciary in Lesotho.
Amnesty International branded the Chief Justice Majara’s suspension as “a grave threat to judicial independence” and called on the government to immediately reinstate her.
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane indefinitely suspended Justice Majara from office with effect from 11 September 2018.
The suspension paves way for a three-member tribunal to try Justice Majara over a litany of misconduct charges including her alleged failure to ensure the timeous delivery of justice.
His Majesty King Letsie III, acting on the advice of Prime Minister Thabane, has since appointed High Court judge, Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase, as the acting Chief Justice. King Letsie III has also appointed three experienced judges from Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe to the tribunal to hear the misconduct charges against Justice Majara.
But in a statement on Friday, Amnesty International said Justice Majara’s suspension undermines rule of law and judicial independence in Lesotho as the decision was made despite court orders that interdicted the government from recommending Justice Majara’s suspension and the appointment of a tribunal to impeach her.
“The suspension of Majara by King Letsie III is considered to be politically motivated by civil society organisations in the country,” Amnesty said, adding it was concerned that the government decision “set a deeply worrying precedent in Lesotho”.
But the government this week hit back at the two organisations and accused them of issuing unfounded statements based on unverified and disparaging claims about Lesotho.
“To restore the dignity and esteem of these organisations, the misleading information depicted in their statements and the attendant biased conclusions against His Majesty’s government warrant unconditional retraction,” government said.
The government said the two organisations’ statements “further give the impression that, the government of Lesotho cannot take any prescribed constitutional measures to enforce discipline upon the Chief Justice”.
The government also accused the two organisations of issuing their statements without engaging the government or its attorneys for their side of the story.
The government went on to “reassure the nation and the international community that it remains committed to the values of the rule of law and constitutional democracy, contrary to the views expressed in the public statements issuing from the Amnesty International and the Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association”.
“The government of Lesotho further reaffirms the position that the notion of judicial independence is inextricably tied to the notion of judicial accountability.
“Therefore, the government of Lesotho emphasises that the suspension of the Chief Justice is neither a punishment nor a verdict of misconduct. “It is clearly for the judicial tribunal to investigate the issues surrounding her fitness to hold office and not for the government,” government said.
The government statement added: “No quantum of pre-emptive strikes against the citadel of the justice system of the Kingdom of Lesotho will make us depart from this path. We reiterate that, pursuing the prescribed corrective action against a single member of any country’s judiciary, however elevated and exalted they might be, can never spell doom for the edifice of the justice system; contrary to what doomsayers would have some amongst believe.”
The government statement is in sync with the opinion of the Attorney General, Haae Phoofolo, who on Sunday night told acting Chief Justice Mahase that the suspension of Justice Majara was “neither a punishment nor a verdict of misconduct”.
Adv Phoofolo successfully petitioned the courts to interdict Justice Majara from entering her office at the High Court premises and purporting to execute her administrative duties.
The interdict was sought after Justice Majara’s lawyers wrote to the government informing them that they had advised their client to ignore the suspension and resume her duties.
Adv Phoofolo also wants the courts to direct the Law Society of Lesotho to investigate a case of possible misconduct against Adv Qhalehang Letsika for allegedly publishing and or disseminating a letter “aimed at disturbing the peace and stability of His Majesty’s government”. The letter advised the Chief Justice to ignore her suspension and report to work as usual.