Push broader agenda to address crisis in judiciary

JUSTICE Michael Ramodibedi’s call to set up a separate budget for the Court of Appeal could be seen as an extension of the bitter tussle for power between him and Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla.

Speaking at the closing session of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ramodibedi said setting up a separate budget for the highest court will enhance the delivery of justice in Lesotho.

He also argued that the Court of Appeal was a distinct court that deserved its own budget, insisting that the Court of Appeal was not an extension of the High Court.

It is on this basis that Basotho can approach the Court of Appeal and expect fairness and justice when they take their cases to the highest court, he argued.

This is a persuasive argument.

However, it is important to consider the context of this debate.

We are aware that Justice Ramodibedi and Chief Justice Lehohla are locked in a fierce struggle over who is senior.

As we have argued in previous editorials this power struggle is not just petty but has the potential to harm the fight for justice in Lesotho.

We think there are more pressing issues that are haunting our judiciary that warrant immediate attention than a mere fight over issues of protocol.

We also sense that Justice Ramodibedi feels his court is being starved of resources with the High Court getting the bulk of the resources.

We can understand why he feels a separate budget for the Court of Appeal would be in his interests.

But beyond this petty fight we need to look holistically at the problems haunting the judiciary.

It would be a mistake to conclude that Justice Ramodibedi’s complaints, justified as they are, are merely because of his raging power struggle with Justice Lehohla.

As we have argued before it is wrong for the judiciary to beg for resources.

The judiciary must be adequately resourced to be able to discharge its functions well.

Our judiciary must not be forced to scrounge for resources.

If we allow the judiciary to beg for resources we allow it to be seriously compromised.

Justice Ramodibedi complained that the Court of Appeal was being forced to work with outdated leading textbooks because the government has not replaced them.

Law reports have also not been compiled.

These complaints are not new. We have heard them before.

However, we think Justice Ramodibedi must not just focus on improving conditions within his own Court of Appeal.

That approach would be too narrow.

Instead he must push a broader agenda that seeks to improve the lot for all sectors of the judiciary.

As head of the apex court in Lesotho Justice Ramodibedi must push to improve the conditions of service for all judicial officers.

The problems within the judiciary are not limited to the Court of Appeal or High Court.

They stretch even to the lower courts.

The situation in our magistrate courts is said to be dire.

Our courts have been seriously starved of resources.

They have been forced to do without basic materials such as pens, ink cartridges and printing paper.

Court cases have had to be postponed because the government did not have money to allocate to witnesses for food and transport.

Magistrates are being forced to work in run-down offices.

Even High Court judges have been forced to hitch-hike in public taxis because the government had no money to repair their cars.

Salaries for junior court officials are pathetic.

Many are seriously demoralised.

The courts have been forced to accept hand-outs from donors.

It would be in the interest of justice if the two leading senior judges in Lesotho focused on these broader issues to improve the delivery of justice to Basotho.

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