Seven new judges appointed

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Mohalenyane Phakela

FORMER Prime Minster Thomas Thabane’s daughter, ‘Mabatšoeneng Grace Hlaele (nee Nkoya Thabane), is among seven new High Court judges who will soon be sworn-in by His Majesty King Letsie III.

She has made the cut alongside northern region Chief Magistrate, ‘Makampong Gugu Mokhoro and Ombudsman Tšeliso Joakim Mokoko among others.

Former Magistrates, ‘Mafelile Patricia Ralebese and ‘Maliepollo Makhetha, prominent lawyers Hopolang John Nathane King’s Counsel and Moneuoa Stephen Kopo have also made it to the list.

The Lesotho Times has seen a government gazette dated 18 March 2022 which appoints the seven to the High Court bench.

According to the gazette, their appointments are “with effect from 10 March 2022”.

However, they are waiting to take the judicial oath and be sworn-in by His Majesty on a yet to be announced date.

The seven were part of the 18 hopefuls who underwent public interviews before the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) from 14 to 18 February 2022.

The JSC panel comprised of Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane (chairperson), High Court Judge Polo Banyane, Public Service Commission chairperson Moshoeshoe Sehloho and Attorney General Rapelang Motsieloa.

The JSC had on 29 October 2021 advertised the positions of eight judges of the High Court resulting in 21 applications and nominations.

Only 18 of them were shortlisted for interviews conducted in two-phases. The first phase was for open interviews for background and qualifications checks. The second phase was done in camera to avoid giving an unfair advantage to interviewees who came later as they would have heard the questions posed to their competitors and prepare to the detriment of those interviewed first.

On 14 February while opening the interviews, Justice Sakoane had said they would select the “best eight” from the 18 hopefuls.  However, the gazette only appoints seven.

The JSC secretary, Advocate ‘Mathato Sekoai, who is also the High Court and Court of Appeal registrar, yesterday said only seven were found fit to assume the bench.

“Although the Commission had planned to hire eight judges, it found those seven to be fit for appointment,” Adv Sekoai said.

“The swearing-in date has not yet been set, so it is difficult to say when they will start their duties.

“From the seven, two will go to Leribe as had been previously scheduled and the other five will be stationed in Maseru. The eighth position will be filled at a later stage.”

Currently, the High Court has nine judges, namely, Justices Sakoane, Banyane, Tšeliso Monapathi, ‘Maseforo Mahase, Molefi Makara, Moroke Mokhesi, Keketso Moahloli, Realeboha Mathaba and Fumane Khabo.

The seven new judges had been shortlisted alongside chief magistrates ‘Matankiso Nthunya and Manyathela Kolobe, as well as magistrates, Itumeleng Letsika, Teboho Thoso, Monyake Hlabanyane, Peter Murenzi and Thamae Thame.

Other shortlisted candidates were prominent lawyers, Kuili Ndebele, Molemo Monethi and ‘Mamotšelisi Khiba.

Advocates Kopo and Khiba were having a second bite of the cherry as they were initially shortlisted for interviews when the JSC called for applications to fill two vacant posts last year. However, they lost out when the JSC hired Justices Mathaba and Khabo as judges in October 2021.

Adv Hlaele is also the wife to All Basotho Convention (ABC) secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele. She made headlines in 2019 when she successfully petitioned the Court of Appeal to declare her husband and others as the legitimately elected ABC national executive committee members. This after her father had rejected their election. During her interview, the JSC asked her about her relationship with the ABC founded by his father in 2006. She said she had resigned from the party in February 2021.

Adv Mokoko has been serving as the Ombudsman from 2019 till his latest appointment as High Court judge. During his interview, he told the JSC that he left the ABC in 2019 when he was appointed Ombudsman. He had not renewed his membership. He had also served as the principal secretary in the Local Government and Chieftainship ministry in 2017. He was later moved to the Defence and National Security portfolio in 2018 before being appointed Ombudsman a year later.

Chief Magistrate Mokhoro started serving in the magistracy in 1989 when she was appointed a magistrate for Butha-Buthe district. She moved to become deputy registrar of the High Court from June 1989 to August 1997 when she went back to the Magistrates Court. In 2008, she was promoted to become a resident magistrate. In 2010, she was the appointed senior resident magistrate. She assumed the role of the chief magistrate northern region in 2015 and was responsible for the districts of Berea, Leribe, Butha-Buthe and Mokhotlong.

Magistrate Ralebese became a magistrate in 2000. In 2002, she was promoted to become first class magistrate before being appointed resident magistrate in 2005. In 2009 she left the magistracy to work as a project assistant for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) under the Land Administration Reform Project which gave birth to the Land Act, 2010, and the Land Administration Authority (LAA).

Magistrate Makhetha became a magistrate in 2002 in the second class before being promoted to the first-class category the following year. In 2006 she was made a resident magistrate and senior resident magistrate in 2007. She left the judiciary in 2008 to work as a civil, legal and reform project officer under the Millennium Challenge Authority (MCA) which was instrumental in helping create the Mediation and Commercial Division of the High Court.

Adv Nathane KC first served as the assistant registrar of the High Court in 1987 till 1990. He then went into private practice until his latest elevation to the High Court bench. In 2012 he was honoured with the King’s Counsel title by His Majesty King Letsie.

Adv Kopo is a prominent lawyer who has worked for the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) in the past. He was being interviewed by the JSC for the second time after he failed his interview last year, losing to Justices Mathaba and Khabo.

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