Two judges sworn-in

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. . . another judge to be recruited as JSC moves to clear criminal cases backlog

Mohalenyane Phakela

 

RETIRED Judge Semapo Peete and prominent lawyer, Advocate Tšabo Matooane, have been sworn-in as acting judges.

They were sworn in at the High Court this week by Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane.

A third acting judge will be sworn-in once His Majesty, King Letsie III, has approved the Judicial Service Commission (JSC)’s recommendation to hire him or her.  The prospective judge’s name has already been submitted for the King’s consideration. The recruitment of the acting judges is part of the judiciary’s efforts to clear the massive 4000-plus backlog of cases that have piled up in the High Court over the years.

Speaking at the swearing-in ceremony, Justice Sakoane said the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) had resolved to hire acting judges to help reduce the backlog of cases and in particular the murder cases which have been pending for a long time.

“These appointments have been necessitated by the need to tackle the huge backlog of criminal matters,” Justice Sakoane said.

“This country is grieved by the high numbers of homicide and murder cases. Some of these are in the process of being disposed of and others have been pending in the courts of law for a long time.

“Our judiciary does not have enough judges to handle criminal matters. Currently we have nine judges; some of them do not handle murder cases, principally those (judges) in the commercial division (of the High Court).

“The Judicial Service Commission saw it fit to appoint acting judges to assist in tackling the backlog of cases. Two names were forwarded to His Majesty who has happily endorsed them hence the two acting judges (Peete and Matooane) here present. They will be dealing with criminal cases,” said Justice Sakoane.

On her part, JSC secretary, ‘Mathato Sekoai, said a third acting judge would be sworn in as soon as the appointment had been made by King Letsie III.

“The aim is for them (acting judges) to hear criminal cases to finality.

“Criminal cases have been stagnant to a point that people now think once a suspect is granted bail, it is the end of the case.

“(This is because) we are crippled by the shortage of judges hence the swearing-in of these two acting judges today. A third acting judge will be sworn in soon. The name has already been submitted to His Majesty and we are just waiting for the King’s approval.

“The three acting judges will tackle the cases which are on the roll. The cases are in Maseru but when we have seen progress, we will move on to the districts,” Adv Sekoai said.

The judiciary is looking to dispose 35 criminal cases between now and 29 April 2022.

These include business mogul Tšeliso Nthane’s much delayed murder trial which has now been slated to run from 14 to 18 March 2022.

The business mogul shot and killed his then 51-year-old truck driver, Kopang Mohapi, on 10 January 2019.

Mr Mohapi had been involved in a road accident at the Moteng Pass about 171 kilometres from Maseru while transporting construction machinery to Polihali in Mokhotlong for the Nthane Brothers company which had just been awarded a M235 million road construction tender for the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).

After the shooting, Mr Nthane handed himself over to the Butha-Buthe police station where a murder charge was preferred against him. Justice Sakoane, who was then an ordinary High Court judge, presided over Mr Nthane’s bail application in January 2019 and released him on M5000 bail. His bail conditions were that he reports to the Butha-Buthe police on set dates, he refrains from interfering with Crown witnesses and stands trial to finality.

But since then, the trial has failed to take off. It is understood the Crown will face difficulties in prosecuting the matter as witnesses, who had initially cooperated, were now reluctant to testify against Mr Nthane after some off-court arrangements.

Another pending high-profile murder trial is that of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his wife, ‘Maesaiah.

The Thabanes are set to be tried from 8 to 10 March 2022 for the 14 June 2017 murder of Mr Thabane’s ex-wife, Lipolelo. Their co-accused are Famo gangsters; Seabata “Lieta” Sello and Macheli “Lebese” Koeshe.

The late Famo musician and gangster, Rethabile ‘Mosotho Chakela’ Mokete, and Molefi “Mokata” Matima had been among the suspects before their deaths 2021 and 2020 respectively. It is highly unlikely that Sello and Koeshe will attend the trial as they have been hiding in South Africa ever since they were linked to the crime. ‘Maesaiah has already been charged for the murder and is currently out on M10 000 bail.

Mr Thabane has not been officially charged. He appeared at the High Court for a pre-trial interview on 30 November 2021 where he was told that he would be joined to the case and asked to plead when the murder trial begins on 8 March 2022.

Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs Minister Lehlohonolo Moramotse’s son, Thabo Moramotse, is also expected to stand trial for the murder of his brother’s wife, Martha Kota-Moramotse, in June 2016.

He is accused alongside Tekane Tekane and Pako Sekhonyana. The trio is out on bail but Thabo fled the country, prompting the High Court to issue a warrant for his arrest in September 2020. The trial has been set for 7 to 11 March 2022.

Another prominent case is that of former army commander, Tlali Kamoli’s three bodyguards who stand accused of the 9 May 2014 murder of Lisebo Tang, the attempted murder of her companion Tšepo Jane, damaging the latter’s vehicle as well as defeating the ends of justice.

The three soldiers are Tjekane Sebolai, Selone Ratšiu and Kopano Matsoso.

They allegedly committed the crimes on the night of 9 May 2014 when they were guarding the Ha-Leqele, Maseru residence of then army commander, Lieutenant General Kamoli. Mr Jane had parked his vehicle next to Lt-Gen Kamoli’s residence when the soldiers shot at it, killing Ms Tang and injuring him.

The three soldiers’ trial will be run from 7 to 11 March 2022.

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