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Judiciary gauged by region

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SADC lawyers come to judicial rescue

Mohloai Mpesi

The Southern African Development Community Lawyers Association (SADCLA) has come to the rescue of the local law lords after they submitted a report of the independence of the judiciary in Lesotho yesterday in Maseru.

In the handing over of the report to the Lesotho Law Society, National Reforms Authority (NRA), Lesotho Council of NGOs, Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane and to the Minister of Law and Justice Professor Nqosa Mahao, President of the SADCLA Maxwell Boqwana highlighted that the report entails the solutions of problems facing the Lesotho judiciary which requested its interference to addressing the judicial predicaments.

He remarked that the predicaments that faced this country’s bench include poor remuneration of judges and the use of foreign judges in the country which weakens the credibility of the local judiciary.   

“The poor remunerations to the judges and the judiciary, constant use of foreign judges is a problem that leads to negative perception, credibility and integrity of the judiciary.

“We decided to put a research team and our finding mission to get to the bottom of these matters, and we were able to verify the problems.

“We came here because we love this place, we love this region. Our being here was not to become judgmental, we were here to help where there is a necessity. As a result, we have prepared this report that we are handing over and you will understand the outcomes that we are talking about.

“The problems Lesotho is facing are the same problem that Willy Mutunga of Kenya faced for the longest time, Swaziland and Zimbabwe are facing the problems of the same nature, and if we become victorious over these problems it means we can also solve the problems from those countries,” he said adding that to change these challenges it requires competence and boldness from the Chief Justice.

“It requires great shoulders to overcome. Chief Justice we wish you the strength and wisdom to undertake this task” he said.

Boqwana further stated that the country needs to invest in the lawyers and judges in order to have the economy boosted instead of relying on investors.

“Judges must be paid decently to avoid terrible schemes. This is a career of people who undertake their job seriously. Lawyers are guarantors of economy because without an independent and stronger judiciary we will never have an economy that is growing properly. The country needs to invest in the judiciary and that will have the necessary return when the economy grows. But the economy can only grow in a country with political stability.

“I am glad that some of the issues we raised in the report, this country has already taken them on reforms. I am encouraging the work that NRA is doing and that this great work involves the civil society and the churches.

“We have been here as the SADC Lawyers Association to understand and assess the problems and then provide answers to those problems, and we commit ourselves to be able to work with you. We commend you on this report,” he said.

Other observations made by the association include disputes and in-fighting, ad hoc court of Appeals and lack of permanent judicial appointments, lack of sufficiently qualified judicial candidates, no access to judicial training, lack of financial independence for the judiciary, resources and structure, negative public perception of the judicial institution, and parliamentary supremacy or royal prerogative.  

The report recommended that “there should be a clear and defined hierarchy of authority in the court system. Attractive salaries and conditions of service to encourage appropriate candidates to serve in the judiciary.

“Encourage qualified attorneys from private practices, appropriately qualified judges who are dedicated to ensuring the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. Continue judicial education.

“An independent judicial services commission with adequate autonomy to run the affairs of the judiciary outside other branches of government. A fair, independent impartial judicial appointment mechanism that is not politically influenced and a judiciary representative of all the people of Lesotho, adopt an approach based on constitutional supremacy,” the report reads.

For his part, Mahao charged that the authority has neglected its obligation of assisting the judiciary, citing that it is an appalling situation to observe the judges in other courts dressed in horrific apparel despite their important tasks of delivering justice.

“I think as a country we are now turning a corner in a number of ways because we do have a resounding support to the justice sector. We do believe that all of the processes are going to enable all of us to walk in a straight line to reforming the institution.

“Having scanned through the report, we are on the verge to have things changed and the idea that you can now have judges appointed by going through a vigorous appointment that will be transparent for the nation to watch and make its own judgment,” he said adding that there is going to be high courts stretched pointing one on the pipeline at Tšifa-li-Mali in the Leribe district.

“We are also on the verge to expand the capacity of the High Court of Lesotho and will have two new judges at the northern side of the country, Tšifa-li-Mali so that we begin to bring justice at that high level.

“The area which is much more challenging is the issue of the resourcing the judiciary. The executive has neglected a constitutional obligation which is the proper resourcing of judiciary. The resources are implementing year and year out.

He continued that, “I told the government that the law society will sleep at work if we are not doing our dues. It is our responsibility to curb the under-resourcing of the judiciary. As I travel around the country and observe the conditions of our courts from the lowest up to the highest, it is amazing how men and women who are tasked with the very difficult job of justice dressed in such dreadful condition,” he charged.

The Chief Justice of the High Court of Lesotho, Sakoane Sakoane who accepted the report said the recommendations in the report speak to the heart of Basotho problems. He stated that the judges have to work diligently to answer the problems of Basotho.

“The report is written in a fair, logical and truthful manner, I comment the report to all Basotho to read it because those recommendations talk to the heart of the problems that face the judiciary in the country.

“We are accountable to people as the judges and we need to earn our places at the bench as the president has said that we don’t want to see judges coming out of the microwave. If we have our hands on the deck, we are going to turn this judiciary so that we talk to the hearts of Basotho,” he said.

The Director of Lesotho Council of NGOs, Seabata Motsamai indicated that the country is suffering delayed justice and that the public demands speedy justice. He also remarked that the world needs unity to combat the challenges.

“We have noted the content of your report, particularly the recommendations and we accept with full commitment that we pursue one way or the other. The point is that we promote an effective judiciary in Lesotho,” he said.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NRA, Mafiroane Motanayane stated that the report was handed at the right time when the country is in the process of implementing the national reforms and that the report will be a good addition to their work.

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