Judges boycott court cases

MASERU –— The crisis at the High Court deepened this week after judges told the chief justice they will not be hearing cases until he fires the registrar.

Judges began their boycott on Monday after High Court and Court of Appeal registrar ‘Mathato Sekoai came back from her forced leave.

Sekoai was sent on leave in December after judges accused her of corruption, insubordination, incompetence and arrogance.

At that time Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla told Sekoai that she was being sent home to make way for investigations into the judges’ allegations against her.

On January 20 judges informed the chief justice, through a scathing letter, that they were not happy with the way he had handled the investigation into Sekoai’s alleged misconduct.

They also accused the chief justice of trying to protect the registrar by interfering with the investigation.

The chief justice, the judges charged, had not shown “any modicum of impartiality in so far as the registrar is concerned”.

His actions had “compromised the sensitivity, sincerity, honesty and transparency of the process”, the judges added.

They strongly recommended that instead of leading the investigation the chief justice must appoint an independent forensic investigator.

Matters came to a head on Monday when Sekoai arrived at the Palace of Justice to resume her duties.

Irked by her return, the judges boycotted the courts and vowed not to hear cases until she is sacked.

Only Acting Judge Justice Teboho Moiloa was presiding over motion proceedings in Court 6.

Almost all cases were postponed indefinitely.

This paper understands that the Minister of Justice Mpeo Mahase-Moiloa had an urgent meeting with the chief justice on Monday afternoon after she heard of the judges’ boycott.

The minister is understood to have told the chief justice to urgently resolve the issue.

On Tuesday morning the chief justice had a meeting with the judges in an attempt to persuade them to hear cases.

A source close to the issue told the Lesotho Times that the meeting, which started at around 9am and lasted for about one and half hours, failed to resolve the problems with judges insisting that they will not be hearing cases until Sekoai has been fired.

The judges also reaffirmed their position at a meeting they had as a group before noon on the same day.

“They then went back to the chief justice and told him that their position had not changed,” the source said.

Under pressure from the judges, the chief justice then told the registrar that she was being sent on forced leave again.

Another source who saw the registrar after her meeting with the chief justice said she was “literally crying”.

“The chief justice had no choice but to send her home because the judges have clearly said their boycott will continue until she is been fired,” the source said.

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) was scheduled to meet yesterday afternoon to decide Sekoai’s fate but the source said the “judges have already told the chief justice that they have lost faith in the commission”.

“At the Tuesday meeting the chief justice said the judges must wait for the decision from the JSC but the judges told him they had no confidence in the commission because it is a one-man show,” the source added.

“They said they have seen the way the chief justice has handled the case so far and they don’t think there will be a credible decision from a commission he chairs.”

The boycott means that major trials like those for murder are now on hold.

The boycott is likely to worsen the backlog of cases that has been mounting in the High Court for the past 10 years.

The backlog includes some cases that date back to the late 1990s.

Yesterday lawyers representing a group of men accused of trying to kill Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili in April 2009 had their case postponed to next Tuesday.

Moshoeshoe Mokaloba, a senior lawyer, said what disappointed him the most is that no one from the High Court has bothered to tell the lawyers what is happening.

“My concern is that we came to court hoping to continue with our cases. It takes a long time to set cases; some have been set down for proceeding as early as September last year,” Mokaloba said on Monday.

“When we arrived here they could not proceed for reasons that we do not know. We are not being given any explanation, and I am very disappointed.”

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