Judge’s clerk in hot water over letter

MASERU — A High Court judge’s clerk is in hot water for questioning the suitability of an Australian judge seconded by the Commonwealth to Lesotho.

Thabang Mohafa will soon be hauled before the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) for saying Justice John Lyons had a controversial stint in the Bahamas before he came to Lesotho.

Justice Lyons was seconded to Lesotho two years ago to run the Commercial Court.

In January Mohafa wrote to the JSC questioning the suitability of Justice Lyons to be on the High Court bench.

To support his assertions he quoted newspaper articles in which Justice Lyons was reported to have appointed an accountant who was brother to a woman he had dated.

The newspaper article said the accountant had been appointed to help in a case in which two brothers were fighting over shareholding.

It also alleged that the woman Justice Lyons had dated also worked for her brother on the case.

The Lesotho Times ran the story of the controversy after Mohafa had written to the JSC.

Weeks later Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla defended the appointment and described the Lesotho Times report as malicious.

Now Justice Lehohla who chairs the JSC wants Mohafa to face the music for allegedly tarnishing Justice Lyons reputation.

Mohafa is also accused of tarnishing the JSC’s reputation.

Last month, the JSC wrote to Mohafa asking him to “show cause” why he should not face disciplinary action.

The Acting Registrar of the High Court and Court of Appeal, Lesitsi Mokeke, who is the secretary of the commission, said Mohafa is charged with violating provisions of the Public Services Act 2005.

He said “upon or about the 9th January, 2012 you wrote a memorandum addressed to the secretary of the Judicial Service Commission purporting to advise the Honourable Chief Justice and the Judicial Service Commission on the status of Justice John Lyons”.

“The memorandum in question was later published in the Lesotho Times newspaper dated 12th January 2012 the local newspaper whose readership is very wide both locally and outside the country,” Mokeke said in the letter.

He alleged that the article that followed Mohafa’s memorandum tarnished Justice Lyons’ “good image”.

“The said publication has seriously tarnished the reputation of Mr Justice Lyons as a Commonwealth expert sent to assist the judiciary of Lesotho with management of the Commercial Court.”

Mokeke said the publication tarnished the JSC’s reputation by insinuating that it had “failed in its constitutional duty to conduct an objective, transparent and thorough screening of Justice Lyons and thereby putting the Lesotho judiciary into disrepute as Justice Lyons had a controversial stint in the Bahamas before his appointment in the High Court bench of Lesotho”.

The newspaper report also gave an impression that the Commonwealth sent Justice Lyons to Lesotho to assist in response to a request from the Chief Justice without disclosing the controversy concerning him in the Bahamas, he added.

The letter also noted that the author of the information Mohafa used to write a memorandum “had either deliberately, maliciously or negligently failed to refer to the Court of Appeal decision which cleared Justice Lyons from the allegations”.

By writing the memorandum whose contents were later published, Mokeke said, Mohafa had contravened the Public Service Act of 2005 and some sections of the Code of Conduct Practice 2005, the JSC submits.

This is not the first time Mohafa has found himself in trouble with High Court authorities.

Two years ago he was charged with breach of conduct after advising the chief justice to transfer the former registrar of the High Court and Court of Appeal, ‘Mathato Sekoai, for alleged incompetence.

The case was however suspended pending a Constitutional Court ruling on Mohafa’s constitutional challenge to his charges.

Sekoai is now deputy principal secretary in the Ministry of Law after the High Court judges pushed for her ouster as registrar.

Justice Lyons was appointed two years ago to establish the Commercial Court as an expert to adjudicate over commercial cases.

His two-year contract was renewed in January this year.

Mohafa is now awaiting notice on the hearing date from the JSC.

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