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What Justice Lehohla told regional judges

by Lesotho Times

MASERU — Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla has never warmed up to the fact the government considers him junior to Court of Appeal President Justice Michael Ramodibedi.

Since the cabinet issued a directive in March 2009 confirming this protocol ranking Justice Lehohla has waged a serious battle to get it reversed.

And he has taken his battle to the Southern African Chief Justices Forum, a grouping of 15 chief justices from southern African countries.

He has been trying to persuade the forum to confront the government of Lesotho about the March 2009 directive he claims stripped him of his privileges.

It is also understood that the forum wrote a letter to Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili querying that cabinet directive and accusing the government of taking Justice Lehohla’s privilege of seniority.

This was after Justice Lehohla had written to the forum asking it to intervene.

The Lesotho Times is in possession of the letter he wrote to the forum on May 26, 2010.

The letter was addressed to the chairman of the forum Justice Ernest Sakala who is chief justice of Zambia.

“It is with a heavy heart that I am obliged to address this letter to you and other two members of our forum’s executive committee,” Justice Lehohla wrote.

Justice Lehohla said Mosisili had nullified his privilege at the “stroke of a pen”.

To the letter he attached 12 documents that he said “provided necessary background to an unseemly interference with the independence of the judiciary by the head of Lesotho’s executive (Mosisili) fuelled by the newly appointed President of the Court of Appeal”.

He said the “crucial issue underpinning my concern is that it is unlawful to oust an incumbent from his status without affording him a hearing . . .”

Justice Lehohla said although Lesotho’s constitution is silent on who, between the chief justice and the Appeal Court president, is the head of the judiciary the duties performed by the chief justice imply that he is senior.

He argued that the chief justice swears in the King, the Prime Minister and other judges, roles he said the Court of Appeal president does not perform under the constitution.

“Thus there can be no question that they are the preserve of the head who is the Chief Justice.

“True no clause describes the Chief Justice as the head (of the judiciary) in our constitution but none also says there shall be separation of powers in the government yet the latter is observed in this kingdom in much the same way as it is observed as a constitutional norm in countries whose constitution set it out as such,” Justice Lehohla said.

He insinuates that the former Court of Appeal president Jan Steyn accepted the chief justice as the head of the judiciary. Justice Lehohla also rubbishes claims that the High Court is saddled with a huge backlog of cases.

Scientific results, he wrote, had shown that the claim that there is a huge backlog was a “myth”.

He also tried to justify why he does not hear contested cases by claiming that he is too busy with administrative issues.

Justice Lehohla ends his letter by stating that he had thought it “advisable to go the route of mediatory by my peer brother as opposed to litigation which might be disruptive”.

“It cannot serve any good purpose to use a sword to divide in half a baby whose parenthood is disputed between mothers!

“You may consider working hand in hand with the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) situated in Southern Africa especially with regard to financing your meetings as they are seriously keen to do all they could to bring to normality to this absurd situation”

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