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Top judges must end their squabble

by Lesotho Times

THE fight between Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla and Court of Appeal President Justice Michael Ramodibedi over who is senior should be deemed unfortunate given the enormous challenges besetting the judiciary.

We think the spat between the two learned judges is also embarrassing.

The dispute which exploded into the open at a recent meeting of judges in Uganda has the potential of dragging Lesotho’s reputation through the mud.

That is unfortunate.

It is precisely for this reason that the government must now step in and find a solution to the long-running saga that has rumbled on since 2009.

For a start we think this dispute will only be resolved if there is a constitutional amendment stipulating clearly who is senior.

However, we would like to believe there are much more urgent issues that must be attended to within the judiciary beyond this nauseating fight over rank.

We are certain that the two honourable judges are aware of the dire straits that our judiciary finds itself in. This is a judiciary that has been persistently starved of resources.

This is a judiciary that has been forced to live from hand-to-mouth as it scrounges for resources to get by.

This is a judiciary that has had to live on handouts from benevolent donors.

The courts have had to make do without basic materials such as pens, paper and ink cartridges.

Court cases have had to be postponed because the ministry had no money to pay witnesses for food and transport.

Some judges of the High Court have been forced to hitch-hike in taxis because the government could not afford to repair their cars or buy new ones for them after their official vehicles broke down.

Magistrates have been forced to work in dilapidated courtrooms in the districts because the government is broke.

The salaries for junior officers in our courts are pathetic.

As a result we have judicial officers who are seriously demoralised. These issues have been well documented.

But instead of dealing with these critical issues we seem to have top judges entirely fixated on who is on top of who.

This is regrettable.

We think the senior judges must channel their energies towards the search for solutions to the monumental problems haunting our judiciary.

It is well known that the High Court has been battling to clear a huge backlog of cases that dates back to the 1990s.

That suspects can be made to wait in remand prison for years before their cases are heard is a clear violation of their right to fair and quick trial.

As we have often argued on this page before the delay in dealing with such cases is simply unconscionable.

We expect the two senior judges to co-operate in helping reduce the huge backlog of cases in the High Court.

But when they fight over matters of protocol it is clear that there is a danger that the fight for justice will be seriously compromised. That there is a backlog in the courts should also not be an issue for debate.

We are fully aware that there are cases in the High Court that have been stretching back for years.

It would be in the interests of justice for the two judges to see the bigger picture and fight from the same corner in demanding more resources for the judiciary.

They must work together towards the realisation of that goal.

Our judiciary will only win more resources when judges work towards the same goal rather fight against each other over mundane issues about who is senior.

The sooner the two judges realise their fight is counter-productive the better.

We think there are more critical issues haunting the judiciary that warrant attention.

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