MASERU — Former High Court and Court of Appeal Registrar Mathato Sekoai has been appointed deputy principal secretary in the justice ministry.
Magistrates who had fought a bitter battle against Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla over Sekoai yesterday declared victory and announced an end to their four-week strike.
Magistrates went on strike on February 12 after the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) demoted Sekoai as registrar and appointed her chief magistrate for the southern region which includes Mohale’s Hoek, Qacha’s Nek and Quthing.
This was after High Court judges had launched a relentless campaign to have her fired or redeployed over allegations of corruption, insubordination, incompetence and arrogance.
The appointment ended the stand-off between the judges and the chief justice but created a new crisis when magistrates protested against her appointment as chief magistrate.
The magistrates said Sekoai should not have been given the post because she lacked judicial experience and the position had not been advertised.
When the JSC failed to address their grievances the magistrates embarked on a month-long strike that brought the justice system to a halt.
And last week lawyers boycotted the courts for three days in support of the magistrates.
The JSC’s promise last week to consider the magistrates’ demands to reverse Sekoai’s appointment failed to break the impasse.
The Lesotho Times understands that Justice Minister Mpeo Mahase-Moiloa informed cabinet about the crisis after the magistrates asked her to intervene in the dispute.
“The cabinet decided that it had to act to end this crisis,” said a highly placed source at the High Court.
“Sekoai was consulted and she agreed to be appointed as the deputy principal secretary.”
The decision might be a victory for the magistrates but certainly not a humiliating defeat for Sekoai who had fought running battles with judges’ clerks, junior staff, judges and magistrates over the past 12 months.
She will still enjoy most of the benefits she had when she was the registrar.
Her salary too does not change.
Manyathela Kolobe, the president of Judicial Officers of Lesotho (JOALE), an association of magistrates, yesterday confirmed that the strike had ended.
He was speaking soon after his meeting with Minister Mahase-Moiloa and Lesotho Law Society president Zwelakhe Mda.
“We as magistrates regard the outcome of the meeting as a victory and this vindicated our stance from the start that Sekoai should go,” Kolobe said.
It was at that meeting that Mahase-Moiloa is said to have announced the cabinet’s decision to transfer Sekoai to the Ministry of Justice.
Kolobe said the “victory had shown that judiciary activism works”.
“We have shown that judiciary officers cannot just standby when the constitution is being violated. We have to stand up to such violations,” he said.
Mda said while the cabinet’s decision has helped end the magistrates’ strike it does not solve the “fundamental problems” in the judiciary.
“She is only the manifestation of the problem. The problem lies with the management, the chief justice,” Mda said.
He said during yesterday’s meeting the law society and the magistrates had told the minister that they wanted Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili to “ask the King if the person at the helm of the judiciary is still competent”.
Mda said the problem was the chief justice “who is running a one-man show as chairman of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC)”.
He reiterated his earlier calls that the only way the problems in the judiciary could be solved was if the Chief Justice Lehohla is removed.
The law society has in the past called for the chief justice’s removal accusing him of failing to run the judiciary.
They also accused him of not hearing contested matters and failing to supervise the High Court bench.
The chief justice was not leading by example, the law society said.
Meanwhile, in an earlier interview on Tuesday Molefi Ntlhoki, one of the country’s top lawyers, warned that the country judiciary is now heading for chaos “where everybody will take the law into their own hand”.
“I would urge parliament, government and the council of state to exert pressure on the chief justice to go,” Ntlhoki said.
“We now have one of the organs of the state-judiciary not functioning. We are now heading for chaos,” Ntlhoki said.
“The Law Society of Lesotho is not being legally served.
“This in turn is now affecting the operations of the law enforcement agents such as police, and correctional services. Some people are rotting in jail,” he said.