Lawyers back Ramodibedi

MASERU — The Law Society of Lesotho has refused to condemn the Chief Justice of Swaziland, Michael Ramodibedi, for the way he handled the suspension of Swazi Judge Thomas Masuku.
The Southern African Development Community Lawyers Association (SADCLA) recently wrote to the Law Society of Lesotho requesting it to join the condemnation of Justice Ramodibedi who is also the president of the Lesotho Court of Appeal and sits on Botswana’s Supreme Court.
Justice Ramodibedi, a Mosotho, came under a blistering attack last month following the suspension of Justice Masuku for allegedly insulting King Mswati III in a 2010 judgment.
Apart from calling for his suspension Swazi lawyers have also filed a complaint with the country’s Judiciary Service Commission alleging that Justice Ramodibedi sexually harassed five female colleagues and abused state resources.
They have also accused him of insulating the king and the Swazi royal family against lawsuits.
The judge has however rejected the allegations, insisting that they are a malicious attempt to tarnish his image by a xenophobic group of lawyers who are hostile to foreigners appointed to run their judiciary.
The Law Society of Lesotho has also tacitly refused to criticise Justice Ramodibedi before the case against Justice Masuku is finalised.
In a diplomatically couched response to SADCLA’s request the law society said it had considered it prudent to refrain from passing uninformed value judgment on Justice Ramodibedi.
“The Law Society of Lesotho has perused the allegations levelled against Justice Masuku and partially shared the expressed sentiment that some of them appear ex facie insignificant,” the Law Society said in their letter to the Botswana-based SADCLA Secretariat.
“Regrettably the same cannot be said in respect of others,” said the law society in reference to some of the allegations against Justice Masuku.
“The Society would find it extremely undesirable and unfair on Justice Ramodibedi to cast aspersions without the benefit of the facts on the ground.”
“We are mindful of the commended record of Judge Masuku and have no reason to doubt it. But even Justice Ramodibedi is a jurist of impeccable credentials,” the law society said.
It added, “However, having come to the conclusion that Swaziland is an abnormal society in need of drastic democratic change, we remain ready and committed to play any meaningful role that may be assigned to us by our mother body SADCLA with a view to resolving that said impasse for the benefit of the rule of law and all concerned.”
The law society said while it is a committed member of the SADCLA and would always strive to act in accordance with its principles and policies, the current constitution of Swaziland “woefully falls short of the standards required under human rights treaties and other relevant principles of international human rights.”
These included the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the UN Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
It said the legal profession in Lesotho is particularly sensitive when it comes to issues relating to the independence of judicial officers.
“This disposition is informed by the enduring battle the Law Society of Lesotho has had to fight in recent years for the independence of the forces external and internal to the judiciary.”
It also noted that Justice Ramodibedi had practiced law for a long time as a member of the bar and side bar.
“Justice Ramodibedi has contributed immensely to the human rights jurisprudence in Lesotho.”
“He is a rigorous keeper of standard and professional ethics, which unfortunately has at times brought him into collision with his peers,” it said.
Justice Ramodibedi has on numerous occasions urged the head of the High Court in Lesotho (Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla) to lead by example, the law society added.
“Justice Ramodibedi has earned the respect of the Law Society and legal fraternity in general by his open door and inclusive policy in managing the affairs of the Court of Appeal.”
Justice Ramodibedi, the law society said, had for a long time been an
active supporter of the society’s
projects and maintained a cordial relationship with it, based on principled mutual respect.

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