Mosito appointed top judge

 

…confirmed as Court of Appeal president with effect from 15 January 

Tefo Tefo

IT’S now official: King’s Counsel (KC) Kananelo Mosito is the new president of the Court of Appeal.

Advocate Mosito’s appointment as head of Lesotho’s judiciary has been announced through a government gazette issued on Friday last week.

According to the gazette, the appointment had been made by King Letsie III, “pursuant to Section 124(1) of the Constitution of Lesotho, and acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister”.

The gazette further proclaimed Dr Mosito’s appointment was with effect from 15 January 2015, with sources close to the case telling the Lesotho Times his swearing-in ceremony is set for tomorrow morning at the Royal Palace.

However, Dr Mosito’s appointment has allegedly raised the ire of five of the country’s top lawyers who issued a public statement last month warning government against making such a promotion.

In their statement, KC Salemane Phafane, Motiea Teele, Zwelakhe Mda, Karabo Mohau and Attorney Qhalehang Letsika, said government could not make such a crucial decision as it would only be in power on a caretaker basis following the dissolution of parliament on 5 December 2014. Parliament was dissolved to pave way for snap elections on 28 February this year following the collapse of the coalition government led by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.

But after realising government had now formalised Advocate Mosito’s appointment despite their advice, the five lawyers held an urgent meeting in Maseru this week to discuss the issue and chart the way forward.

One of the lawyers, who spoke to the Lesotho Times yesterday on condition of anonymity, said: “We met to discuss this issue late yesterday (Tuesday), after learning that the government had gone ahead and appointed Advocate Mosito as the new Court of Appeal president despite the concerns we had raised in our statement last month.

“The meeting did not agree on a definite course of action, so we are still weighing our options on how best to tackle this issue.

“One of the options could be to take up the matter with the courts or we could simply let sleeping dogs lie.

“However, I must clarify this point from the onset, that we are not saying Dr Mosito is incompetent. He is competent. What is wrong here is the timing of the appointment.”

In their statement copied to local, regional and international lawyers’ associations, Dr Thabane, Minister of Law and Constitutional Affairs, Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Acting President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Justice and Attorney General, the five lawyers explained why appointing Dr Mosito to the top post at this point in time, would not be appropriate.

The statement noted: “We, the undersigned legal practitioners, have discovered with a sense of shock and dismay that one of our colleagues has been tipped for appointment as President of the Court of Appeal.

“While we do not know the rationale behind this hurried appointment in view of the prevailing situation in the country, we wish to place on record our reservations and strong objections for the following reasons:

  • The Court of Appeal is the highest court in the country and plays a significant role in the administration of justice. The hurried appointment is likely to bring the administration of justice into disrepute. As a profession, we have always maintained that appointments to the judiciary must be made on merit through a transparent and consultative process. In particular, we have always maintained that such appointments must be made in consultation with all stakeholders.
  • We are reliably informed the colleague so tipped has been and continues to be the legal representative of the authority responsible for recommending his appointment. The perception created by this appointment particularly in view of this set of factual matrix is that it is done as a means of patronage.
  • This appointment comes hard on the heels of the perception that there is a concerted effort by the powers-that-be to capture key institutions of state.”

The lawyers also argued Advocate Mosito’s appointment was being made by a government that did not have the authority to do so as it was only a caretaker administration.

The lawyers added: “We wish to observe that this appointment is made following the dissolution of parliament. Things being normal, the current government, by its nature, is transitional and should not be making key appointments.

“We also observe that the appointment flies in the face of decisions made in the Double Troika Summit of Heads of State and Government in Pretoria, South Africa, on 15 September, 2014.”

The lawyers also urged Advocate Mosito to decline the appointment, noting: “Accordingly, we advise our learned colleague who has been approached, to take a principled position not to accept this appointment.

“We wish to remind him that in countries such as Kenya, judges appointed in similar controversial circumstances have been forced to resign. It is a fate we do not wish to be visited upon our learned colleague.”

The lawyers also warned government against bringing the administration of justice into disrepute.

“We appeal to the powers-that-be to avoid bringing the administration of justice into disrepute and undermining the independence of the judiciary. This is because judicial officers serve an important role in ensuring human rights are protected and that all citizens have recourse in the courts of law in the event such rights are violated.”

Contacted for comment yesterday, Law Society of Lesotho president, Advocate Shale Shale, said: “When this issue first came to our attention last month, we convened a general meeting and it was resolved Council should make proper investigations before the Society could make a decision.

“We wrote letters to the offices of the Prime Minister and Private Secretary to the King, to inquire about the issue.

“However, we did not get any response from either office, and yesterday (Tuesday), we learnt about the gazette that confirmed the appointment.

“The Council then met this morning (Wednesday) and resolved that an urgent general meeting of the Society should be held this Friday. And only after Friday’s meeting can the Society pronounce itself on the issue.”

Advocate Mosito, who was acting judge of the High Court and presided over Labour Appeal Court cases, is Dean in the Faculty of Law at the National University of Lesotho (NUL). He also runs his own law firm, KEM Chambers, whose head office is in Maseru.

His appointment as head of the judiciary comes almost nine months after the resignation of then office-bearer, Justice Michael Ramodibedi.

Justice Ramodibedi vacated the post in April 2014 after losing a case before the Court of Appeal, in which he wanted to stop impeachment proceedings against him instituted by Dr Thabane.

Dr Thabane had advised King Letsie III to establish a tribunal to investigate Justice Ramodibedi for possible misconduct he allegedly committed on 23 July, 2013.

Justice Douglas Scott has been Acting Court of Appeal President since Justice Ramodibedi’s resignation.

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