MASERU — Court of Appeal President Michael Ramodibedi says the Lesotho Constitutional Court does not have jurisdiction to decide on wrongs he allegedly did in Swaziland where he is the Chief Justice.
Justice Ramodibedi told the court in an affidavit he filed on Friday that accusations by Law Minister Mophato Monyake that he committed wrongs in Swaziland cannot hold water in Lesotho’s courts.
“This honourable court has no jurisdiction to deal with allegations in respect of matters that allegedly arose in Swaziland or to pronounce on the propriety of the political system and constitutional architecture of Swaziland,” Justice Ramodibedi said.
Monyake said the government of Lesotho was concerned with Justice Ramodibedi’s close relationship with Swaziland’s King Mswati III.
He said in Swaziland there is no constitutional separation of powers or judicial independence contrary to Lesotho’s democratic principles.
Monyake told the court last month that the government was also concerned about Justice Michael Ramodibedi’s alleged serious wrongdoings in Swaziland.
The wrongdoings range from disregarding the Swaziland constitution to an alleged sexual harassment of four women working at the High Court.
Monyake said Justice Ramodibedi’s controversial appointment as the Swaziland Chief Justice taints his position in Lesotho’s apex court.
“The Government of Lesotho has grave concerns over the applicant (Justice Ramodibedi)’s holding of a permanent appointment as Chief Justice in Swaziland while serving as President of the Court of Appeal of Lesotho,” reads Monyake’s affidavit.
Monyake said Justice Ramodibedi cannot serve two masters by pledging allegiance to the constitutions of both Lesotho and Swaziland at the same time.
Both constitutions of the two countries expect him to act as the Swaziland Chief Justice and Lesotho President of the Court of Appeal.
“In view of the government of Lesotho, these official commitments are incompatible particularly because Swaziland is an absolute monarchy where there is no constitutional separation of powers,” said Monyake.
Monyake also accused Justice Ramodibedi of disregarding the constitution of Swaziland as well as rendering the Swazi independence of the judiciary ineffective by fully subjecting it to the dictates of King Mswati III’s absolute monarchy.
He refers to a directive Justice Ramodibedi issued in Swaziland in 2011 where he said King Mswati III and his office shall not directly or indirectly be sued.
Monyake said the directive was “calculated to frustrate access to justice”.
The directive prohibits acceptance of summonses or applications for civil claims against the King either directly or indirectly. In his answer, Justice Ramodibedi said he was appointed Lesotho Court of Appeal President at a time when he was “President of the Court of Appeal of Seychelles and a Judge of Appeal in Botswana and Swaziland”.
“All these appointments were cleared with the government of Lesotho for the reason that it should be aware that I am offering judicial services elsewhere without relinquishing my judicial office in Lesotho,” says Justice Ramodibedi.
“Given the high responsibility of Chief Justice in Swaziland, I accepted to serve on condition that I do not relinquish my posts in Lesotho and Botswana. My contract in Botswana expired in July, 2012.”
He says there is no statutory or constitutional impediment to his serving simultaneously in Swaziland and Lesotho.
The judge says he is unlike the Lesotho Chief Justice and puisne judges who are barred by the High Court Act 1978 from holding any other office or engaging in any remunerative work.
“There is nothing similar in the Court of Appeal Act 1978 and the Constitution in respect of Judges of Appeal.”
Justice Ramidibedi says the oaths of office he has taken “enjoin me to be faithful to their Majesties in accordance with the constitutions and laws of the respective Kingdoms”.
“The constitutions of both Kingdoms guarantee the independence of the judiciary by providing that in the performance of their functions, the courts shall be independent and free from interference and be subject only to the Constitution and the law,” he said.
“In both Kingdoms there is a system of Constitutional monarchy.”
“In both Kingdoms in terms of their respective Constitutions government functions are divided into Legislative, Executive and Judicial functions; there is separation of powers with appropriate checks and balances mechanisms.”
On the government plan to impeach him, Justice Ramodibedi says the Constitutional Court does not have “jurisdiction and competence to stay these proceedings in order to enable respondents to institute impeachment proceedings or investigate and conclude alleged criminal offences”.
“The object of this litigation is to assert constitutional legality and not to determine a case for impeachment or necessity for investigation of an alleged and as yet to be prosecuted offence of an individual who has a constitutional right to be presumed innocent until found guilty.”