MASERU — The Ministry of Justice plans to bar lawyers from the planned small claims court in a bid to simplify procedures and improve the court’s effectiveness.
Chief Magistrate Molefi Makara told a workshop on civil legal reform held in Maseru on Tuesday that the new small claims procedure would be quicker and less costly.
Makara told the workshop that, under the new small claims procedures, an individual will be free to approach the court without legal representation.
“In this procedure an ordinary person can approach the court. We do not allow the lawyers in this simplified regime,” Makara said.
Makara said the new small claims procedure would be introduced to deal with the merits of the claim rather than deciding cases on technicalities.
“The emphasis is on substance justice not technical justice.
“This issue of throwing people out of court on the basis of a technicality has brought our justice system into disrepute because at the end the litigants’ rights remain violated,” Makara said.
Makara said the issue of allowing lawyers to step in where technical issues arose would be considered when making the final draft of the small claims law.
However, lawyers who spoke to the Lesotho Times criticised the new procedure saying it denies litigants their right to legal representation.
The lawyers said the proposed procedure violated individuals’ constitutional rights.
Prominent lawyer Advocate Moroesi Tau-Thabane said lawyers should be allowed to step in where matters of law arose during proceedings.
“I am not against the new small claims procedure but I am saying there should be room for lawyers to step in where technicalities arise,” Tau-Thabane said.
The judiciary under the Civil Legal Reform Project is planning to introduce the new small claims procedure in the Maseru magistrate’s courts to deal with the huge backlog in the small claims court.
The small claims court will deal with claims of not more than M10 000.
The new small claims procedure will bar lawyers from representing litigants in disputes.
The Ministry of Justice says this will make the process of resolving small disputes faster and less technical.
But concerned lawyers said unless the rules provide for legal representation some of the litigants would be prejudiced.
The High Court also seeks to introduce the court-annexed mediation procedure as a way to address the delays in dealing with civil cases.
The court-annexed mediation is a process where conflicting parties meet with a mediator appointed by the court to reach a settlement out of court.
A consultant in the Civil Legal Reform Project, Dr Samson Sempasa, on Tuesday said the mediation process will help conflicting parties to identify areas of agreement and generate options for a mutually agreeable resolution.
Sempasa said the mediation process is an informal session where parties present their cases for purposes of reaching an agreement with the assistance of a mediator.
“These are informal sessions which typically begin with presentation of each side’s view of the case, through their counsel or by the clients themselves,” Sempasa said.
High Court Judge Semapo Peete said the court-annexed mediation could be useful in resolving political cases which are often taken to court unnecessarily.
“I think political cases should be referred for court-annexed mediation because these are cases where conflicting parties can sit and resolve their problems.
“Annexing mediation to the court will make it easy to resolve these matters,” Justice Peete said.
It was not possible to establish when the Ministry of Justice plans to implement these changes.
Committees set up under the Civil Legal Reform Project are still in the process of drafting the rules for the new procedures.