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Appeal Court suspension holds Judiciary hostage

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Mpho Thaa Thaa

The debacle of the untimely closure of the Court of Appeal has led to a judicial shutdown with not only lawyers downing tools, but Judges yesterday convened for an urgent closed meeting.

The meeting of Judges according to Mabohlokoa Mapikitla was meant to officially make know the decision of lawyers under the national body, the Law Society of Lesotho to refrain from appearing before court for their cases.

“The judges met with assistant registrar. They were going to formally be told of the decision of lawyers to boycott all courts following a press conference about the Court of Appeal’s suspension,” Mapikitla, High Court Information Officer told Newsday yesterday.

The indefinite closure of the Court of Appeal as made public last week during a press briefing where Judiciary Registry Pontšo Phafoli revealed the Apex Court was broke.

“The Appeal Court will not sit for its second session which was schedule to begin on April the 15, 2019 because it does not have money to cater for its operational costs,” she said.

Phafoli said, however mentioned that the money shortage has not only hit the Appeal court, but the entire Judiciary.

She noted they have attempted to get more funds for the Apex Court to sit for the session to no success.

“We have exercised all the power within us to see to it that the Court of Appeal sits but failed. The sitting of the Appeal Court lies entirely on the availability of funds allocated by the Ministry of Finance,” she said.

She added, “We are still in talks with the Ministry of Finance to see if it is possible to additional funds over the M80 Million which has already been allocated to the entire Judiciary.”

She stressed that the Judiciary is not in state to even procure anything resources on credit.

“We can’t even afford to purchase anything on credit because we would not have money to pay when the credit is due. It is that bad,” she emphasised.

Phafoli noted that the Appeal Court would need between M800 000 and M900 000 for a session of cases to be heard, however noting that a large chunk of the money are for the court’s salaries.

“A bigger portion of this money goes towards the salaries, so there is very little money left to cater for operational expenses throughout the Judiciary.”

According to the court’s roll, 22 cases were supposed to be heard.

Phafoli said she could not reveal how much was allocated to the Appeal Court because they are still in the process of negotiation with the Minister of Finance for an increase.

She strongly dismissed rumours that the sudden suspension of the Appeal Court was politically influenced.

“From where I am sitting, this matter has nothing to do with any Political vendetta because the money shortage cuts across all Judiciary, and not just the Appeal court,” she said.

This suspension follows a-two-year of suspension the Court of Appeal faced.

The judiciary plight was adjoined by the Law Society with first, a press release signed by the society vice president Advocate Matee, issued last Friday noting the Law Society of Lesoto was concerned as an institution that ‘oil justice system’ within the kingdom of Lesotho about the ‘sudden’ closure of the Appeal court.

“We are concerned about the sudden suspension of the session of the Apex court of the land. The closure has far reaching consequences not only in the law society but for the entire nation,” the statement read.

It added, “We wish to reassure our members and the nation at large that we remain committed to ensuring that the objective of the society are realised. For this reason, we will be meeting all relevant stakeholders responsible for the proper administration of justice.”

The Society on Monday resorted to down tool and boycott all courts pending investigations on the ‘real’ reasons for the suspension of the Appeal Court.

President of the society, Advocate Tekane Maqakachane said they always mediated all Magistrate Court grievances which are brought to the society’s attention.

He noted that the problem of the Appeal Court challenges the independence of the Judiciary, thus calling for an immediate attention.

Maqakachane said this during a press conference when asked why the society opted to down tools owing to the closure of the Appeal Court as opposed to the other courts including the recent strike by the Magistrates.

“It is important to understand that the Court of Appeal is a necessary ingredient to a democratic governance and without which, a democratic state cannot function properly.

The society strongly believes that the kingdom of Lesotho is a democratic state, therefore, the situation at Appeal Court called for an immediate reaction,” he said.

He indicated that problems of the Magistrate are historical and it would be unfair to equate the two courts.

“The problems at the Magistrate stems from far back, and the Law Society has always interjected on any matter whenever it could. The situation with the Appeal Court calls for immediate reaction because we need to protect and liberate the Judiciary.”

He said that they would be holding meetings with all stakeholder to get to the bottom of the suspension of the Appeal court.

“We will meet government Ministries and Judicial Association of Lesotho (JOALE) to sort matters of the Appeal Court out and to maintain the integrity of the kingdom as a democratic state,” he said.

The president said the society will ensure that there is a smooth and uninterrupted administration of justice and an independent of the judiciary.

He said in this process the society would maintain and uphold the rule law.

Maqakachane promised that they would hold a special meeting with all their member to discuss progress of the society’s decision to boycott courts after they had met with all stakeholders.

“On April 24, we will be meeting our member to give them feedback on the different meetings we had with stakeholders, and also to decide whether we shall be continuing with the boycott or not.”

Maqakachane said in their anticipation, cases will still be heard, however, the law society will stop working pending investigation into the Court of Appeal suspension.

Speaking with Newsday, Judicial Minister Mokhele Moletsane said he didn’t understand what the fuss is about the Appeal Court was.

“I really do not understand what the fuss over the court of appeal is about. It has been given about 6.1 million to cover all its cost.  I don’t understand why a press conference was called to say to the public that there is no money while such money has not even fully reached the Judiciary.”

“How can one say there is no money while they haven’t even started using it? I met the Law society, chief justice, registrar and accountant of the court yesterday to discuss way forward, and I put it to you that they will call you again to let to let you know that there is actually money for the court of Appeal to operate,” the minister told this paper

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