MASERU — A Constitutional Court ruling has cleared the way for the impeachment of Appeal Court President Justice Michael Ramodibedi.
The ruling was delivered this week by three South African judges hired temporarily to hear the case as a constitutional matter. The judges; Ompheletse Moshidi, John Musi and Suled Potterrill, unanimously dismissed Justice Ramodibedi’s application to keep his job with costs.
The judge wanted Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s bid to have him removed from office declared null and void. He also bid to have Thabane restrained from advising the King to suspend him from office.
The ruling marks a watershed in a long-running tussle pitting Justice Ramodibedi against former Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla.
The two top judges had for years been disagreeing over seniority.
After Justice Lehohla’s retirement in August, the fallout continued but this time it took a new direction after sucking in Thabane. The Prime Minister is said to have asked Justice Ramodibedi to quit for his role in besmirching the reputation of the judiciary.
The Appeal Court President steadfastly stuck to his guns and refused to comply with Thabane’s directive.
Thabane in turn intensified his bid to have Justice Ramodibedi removed.
King Letsie III was subsequently advised by Thabane to appoint the three judges from South Africa to sit in a tribunal to consider the reasons for the judge’s removal from office.
Minister of Correctional Services and Law, Mophato Monyake, who attended the court proceedings, yesterday expressed satisfaction with the ruling.
He told the Lesotho Times immediately after the court delivered its verdict “We are happy with the ruling.
“This paves the way for us to continue with the impeachment process.”
Monyake said Justice Ramodibedi had been given an opportunity to be heard.
Justice Ramodibedi had sought an interdict to stop the process enquiring into his alleged misconduct, warranting his impeachment, after arguing that processes leading to the setting up of the tribunal and the whole impeachment bid were unlawful.
The three judges disagreed paving the way for the probe into Justice Ramodibedi’s conduct to proceed.
Leading crown counsel, Advocate Sipho Mdhluli, assisted by attorney Khotso Nthontho and Advocate Lerato Makholela, told the paper that the state is prepared to continue with the impeachment proceedings as soon as possible.
Mdhluli said he was not sure if Justice Ramodibedi’s lawyers would appeal the ruling. “They are entitled to appeal against the ruling of the Constitutional Court, if they so wish,” he said.
Some of the allegations against Justice Ramodibedi, who is also the Chief Justice in Swaziland, include that he failed to protect the integrity and independence of the judiciary because of his failure to resolve disputes between him and former Chief Justice Lehohla.
Another accusation against Justice Ramodibedi is that he cancelled the January 2013 Court of Appeal session after the then Chief Justice Lehohla declined to release judges to sit with him in the Court of Appeal.
The government argues that had Justice Ramodibedi resolved his disputes with Justice Lehohla, the cancellation of the session of the court could not have happened.
Justice Ramodibedi and Justice Lehohla’s tussle for seniority at the King’s birthday celebrations in Mohale’s Hoek last year was also cited in the court papers among the misconduct allegations against the Appeal Court president.