MASERU — The executive and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) have played a major role in undermining the administration of justice, an opposition MP has told a Law Society inquiry into the problems affecting Lesotho’s judiciary.
Parliament too has become part of the problems, said MP Sello Maphalla, who is the deputy leader of the Lesotho Workers Party (LWP).
Maphalla told the commission yesterday that he believed the executive has been influencing the DPP’s decisions on the cases it should prosecute.
The executive includes the prime minister and cabinet.
He said the DPP was not as independent as it should be because it takes instructions from the executive.
“I have reservations about the office of DPP. My understanding is that it takes instructions from the executive,” Maphalla said.
“I have a suspicion that the DPP consults with the executive on certain cases and I also have a suspicion that the DPP office has an influence on the executive and through the same influence the DPP can reverse the decisions made by the High Court,” Maphalla said.
“The office of the DPP directly gets instructions from the executive which can influence it whether to prosecute or not. (The) DPP cannot take any case to court without consulting his master.”
The DPP was therefore partial, he added.
“In a normal democratic state, the office of the DPP ought to be impartial.”
Maphalla said he suspected that the DPP’s decisions to appeal against High Court judgments were also influenced by the executive.
Maphalla also accused the DPP of undermining the legal fraternity by hiring foreign lawyers to represent the crown when it appeals against High Court judgments.
“I fear that such acts tend to disregard or belittle our local lawyers. I think that one way of motivating them (local lawyers) is to give them opportunities.”
He alleged that the cabinet was currying favours with the judiciary by approving schemes where High Court judges can purchase their official government-issued vehicles at book value.
This, Maphalla argued, undermines the independence of judiciary officers.
He said problems in the judiciary were also worsened by parliament where he said the government was using its majority to pass laws that were favourable to it.
The public, Maphalla alleged, had been excluded from the law-making process because they are not being consulted when the laws are written.
For instance, Maphalla said, the parliamentary committee had only solicited views from principal secretaries of the ministries concerned in crafting the controversial Public Meetings and Processions Bill.
“Some of the laws are very sensitive and controversial and have to be in accordance with rules of procedure or Standing Orders,” said Maphalla adding that there was a symbiotic relationship between the law-making process and the administration of justice.
“As a concerned citizen I noticed that the administration of justice is a chain process which should not be allowed to cut off.
“Some of the Bills which finally end up becoming law are due to bitterness on the part of some legislators,” said Maphalla, adding that “such laws are so impracticable and put the courts in a predicament”.
He said one such law is the Car Theft Act which stipulates that bail should be given in accordance with the value of the car stolen.
“Such laws were more prompted by bitterness and anger than logic.”
The LWP deputy leader said he was worried that the Constitutional Court in Lesotho was still relying on High Court judges instead of having its own bench.
“We have to have our Constitutional Court with its judges and not ‘panel’ it with judges from the High Court.”
On the issue of the Judicial Service Commission, Maphalla said members of that body ought to be drawn exclusively from the Law Society.
“The fact that they are nominated members does not auger well because law is a delicate issue,” he said.
While testifying to the commission last week, Law Society president, Zwelakhe Mda, also said the current structure of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) made it susceptible to manipulation by the executive.
“JSC should be structured in such a way that it should stay neutral regardless of which party is now popular,” Mda said.
“I am also thinking of a constitutional amendment. This commission represents the aspirations of the legal fraternity and its recommendations will be far-reaching and will call for the amendment of the constitution,” Mda said.
One of the commissioners had asked whether the recent developments at the Lesotho High Court, which included the appointment of a Commercial Court judge, had not resulted in improvements.
Mda said the problem in the judiciary was not the system but the leadership.
“If the leadership is weak all these interventions would come to nothing.
“My submission is that there is a need to put the right leadership. All the years we have been tampering with the system not the leadership,” he said.