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Ramodibedi fights on

by Lesotho Times

By Nat Molomo

MASERU — Suspended Court of Appeal President Justice Michael Ramodibedi has intensified his spirited battle to avoid getting fired from his venerable post.

In a recent notice of appeal against a court judgment allowing the government to purse his impeachment, Ramodibedi fires a broad­side against Prime Minister Thomas Tha­bane whom he accuses of “interfering” with the independence of the judiciary. By initiat­ing a process to have him impeached, Ramod­ibedi also accuses Thabane of “offending” the cardinal principle of separation of powers between the judiciary, the legis­lature and the executive entrenched in the constitution of Lesotho.

Ramodibedi argues in his latest court papers that Thabane’s bid to advise King Letsie III to initiate a process to have him impeached should never have been launched without him being heard first.

The Court of Appeal President suf­fered a major setback last November when the High Court, sitting as a Con­stitutional Court, dismissed his appli­cation contesting Thabane’s bid to have him impeached.

This after the King, on the advice of Thabane, had set up a three judge tri­bunal to probe Ramodibedi over allegations of judicial miscon­duct, leading to his possi­ble impeachment.
Ramodibedi had sought to halt the en­tire process, arguing that his side of the story should have been heard first be­fore the process of establishing the tribunal to probe him had been started.

South African judges, Judge John Musi, Judge Omtheletse Moshidi and Judge Shuled Potterrill, hired to hear the case, dismissed Ramodibedi’s application to interdict the en­tire process of investigating his alleged mis­conduct in a ruling delivered on November 22 2013.
The three judges ruled that Ramodibedi was not entitled to be heard prior to the de­cision to appoint the tribunal to investigate him.

They insisted that the Appeal Court Presi­dent would receive a fair hearing in the course of the tribunal’s probe into his alleged mis­conduct.
But Ramodibedi has begged to differ.

He is now appeal­ing against the entire judgment of the three imported High Court judges, who sat as a Constitutional Court he is leader, is now set to delay the tribunal’s misconduct investigation against him.

In his appeal, Ramodibedi cites Thabane, the attorney-general and the three South Af­rican judges who were appointed to the tribu­nal to probe him as respondents.
The three tribunal judges are Justices Zachy Yacoob, Yvonne Mokgoro and M Joffe.
Ramodibedi’s appeal escalates a feud that has rocked the Kingdom’s judiciary in the last several years and left its reputation on the brink.

The quarrel has its roots in a long-running battle between Ramodibedi and former Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla over seniority on the bench.

When Thabane took office, he reportedly asked the two senior judges to quit because their seniority quarrels threatened to plunge the judiciary into disrepute.

Lehohla, who is now the new chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), duly obliged and quit his post. But Ramod­ibedi, who also serves as the chief justice of Swaziland, dug in his heels, and refused to comply with Thabane’s order.

The Prime Minister then initiated the pro­cess to have Ramodibedi impeached, a move that the Court of Appeal President now ap­pears set to fight to the very bitter end.
Ramodibedi argues that the Prime Minis­ter’s move to have him impeached is uncon­stitutional and remains at odds with the doc­trine of separation of powers.

Ramodibedi’s lawyers, Advocates Salemane Phafane KC, Zwelakhe Mda KC and Sakoane Sakoane KC, lists, several other grounds for his appeal.

But they particularly argue that the failure to afford Justice Ramodibedi a hearing before the initiation of the impeachment process against him had “resulted in the failure of justice”.
They say the court ought to have held that Justice Ramodibedi was entitled to be heard before Thabane made representations to the King under section 125 (5) of the Constitu­tion.
Failure to do so effectively infringed on Justice Ramodibedi’s fundamental right to procedural fairness, equality before the law and equal protection of the law, thus putting into question the entire process of law, the lawyers argue.

They also say the court erred and misdirected itself in awarding costs against Ramodibedi, thus effectively pun­ishing him for attempting to vindicate his constitutional rights to be heard.

Ramodibedi’s lawyers say the costs order is at odds with the court’s own finding that this was a matter of “na­tional interest.

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