THREE High Court judges were left fuming on Tuesday when two lawyers failed to pitch up for the hearing of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy’s (LCD) electoral petition, resulting in the postponement of the case to 22 August 2017.
The LCD was part of the seven-party governing alliance which was forced to cede power in the aftermath of the 3 June 2017 polls which ushered in the four parties’ regime comprising of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Alliance of Democrats, Basotho National Party and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho.
The LCD was however not satisfied with its electoral loss and initially challenged the outcome in four constituencies before withdrawing its claims in two constituencies.
The party also offered to pay the costs of suit to the respondents in respect of the two constituencies where they withdrew their challenge.
The polls petitions were filed by the LCD and its Deputy Secretary-General, Mpiti Mosiuoa, before the High Court on 6 July 2017 challenging the legitimacy of the elections in four constituencies namely, Matlakeng #10, Matsieng #45, Mphosong #7 and Thaba-Phatšoa #8.
Mr Mosiuoa contested under the LCD banner in Tšoanamakhulo #25 constituency and lost to the ABC.
ABC legislators for the disputed constituencies, Moshe Leoma, ‘Matšepo Ramakoae, Libe George Motšoane and Mahala Molapo were cited as fourth to seventh respondents respectively in the application.
Other respondents were the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Attorney-General (AG) Tšokolo Makhethe and the ABC as first, second and third respondents respectively.
The LCD and Mr Mosiuoa subsequently withdrew their challenge for the Matsieng and Mphosong constituencies. They also removed AG Makhethe from the list of respondents.
High Court justices, ‘Maseshophe Hlajoane, Molefi Makara and Sakoane Sakoane set 15 to 18 August 2017 dates after postponing the case on 19 July this year to give the LCD time to consider whether or not to pursue their case as is, take another route or even withdraw the case altogether.
However, the judges were on Tuesday miffed by the non-appearance of lawyers, King’s Counsel Karabo Mohau, who represents the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and Attorney Tumisang Mosotho who represents the ABC legislators whose polls victory is being challenged by the LCD.
Asked by the court if he knew why his opponents did not come to court, the lawyer representing the LCD, Advocate Poulo ‘Nono, said Advocate Mohau had gone to the National University of Lesotho (NUL) where he is a lecturer, while Attorney Mosotho was ill.
However, this did not go down well with the judges who said the case had political and constitutional issues that had to be urgently resolved.
The judges also said that delays in finalising cases were often blamed on the courts even if they were not at fault.
“This is a great case by its nature,” Justice Makara said.
“I have been skeptical from the onset about this case. It has always been us who insisted that there be progress on the matter, considering the stipulations of the law in this kind of a case.
“What is unfortunate is that as far as the public is concerned the matter is still before the courts.
“For instance, the police would bring somebody to court and the matter would be postponed because the same police are still investigating the case. Unfortunately, all the blame is directed at the courts.”
For his part, Justice Sakoane, said the court should impose new dates of hearing for the case in the lawyers’ absence.
He also said there were directives stipulating that a lawyer who was not able to attend court proceedings because of illness should produce a medical certificate from a medical practitioner.
Justice Hlajoane announced the postponement of the case to 22 August this year.
In the petition, the LCD alleged some procedural flaws and irregularities prior to and during the elections.
For their part, the lawyers for the IEC and the ABC raised a question of law that the High Court, which sat as a court of disputed returns, had no powers to preside over a complaint about the voters’ registration process.
They also argued that the LCD could only lodge the case before the court if illegal practices had occurred and not merely procedural issues concerning elections.
On the allegation of voters’ registration flaws, the IEC and the ABC lawyers argued that the complainants could have raised an objection with the IEC’s tribunal.
They averred that the party could take the matter to the High Court only if they were not satisfied with the tribunal’s ruling.
For their part, the complainants insisted that they had used the proper channels in lodging their complaint.