THE Judicial Association of Lesotho (JOALE) has denied that magistrates have gone on strike and insists that they have only been holding meetings since the beginning of the month to come with ways to press the government to resolve their long-standing grievances which include low salaries and poor working conditions.
In a recent statement, JOALE said the magistrates have since 2 July this year been holding regular nationwide meetings aimed at finding a solution to their problems as the government has “turned a deaf ear to their grievances”.
“It has come to our attention that there are news being spread that magistrates have engaged in a go-slow or rather strike and we would like to tell the nation that those news are not true as magistrates have been continuing with their normal daily routines,” part of the JOALE statement reads.
“It is quite clear that there is no office (from government) which adheres to our concerns therefore on 29 June 2018, the magistrates had a meeting where they agreed that from 2 July 2018 they would have several meetings nationwide in order to discuss how best we can tackle the issue, which is what is going on at the moment.
“It is our fervent hope that soon we will agree on a solution and the meetings will end and everything will be back to normal.”
The JOALE statement also lists the concerns of the magistrates which include poor salaries, the lack of security for magistrates, inadequate support, lack of housing and transport.
“Since 2005, the magistrates have lamented to successive governments about a variety of needs which hinder their effective performance in relation to the rule of law. They have also tabled their grievances to the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, the Justice and Correctional Services Minister, Mokhele Moletsane, and the principal secretary in the Public Service ministry but to date, nothing has been done by the government to address their concerns.
“This grievances hinder magistrates from ensuring that justice is served without taking any sides.”
JOALE’s denials however, fly in the face of confirmations of the go-slow by the Justice and Correctional Services Minister, Mokhele Moletsane, as well as empirical observations on the ground by the Sunday Express and its sister Lesotho Times publication.
Last week, the Lesotho Times observed last week in Maseru that cases had to be postponed as magistrates did not show up to preside over them.
One such case which had to be postponed was the trial of the rape-accused former Minister of Law and Constitutional Affairs, Mootsi Lehata, which failed to proceed on Monday.
A go slow is a form of strike action in which those behind it, in this case the magistrates, do report for work but refrain from executing their duties or simply perform their duties at a snail’s pace. However, even though officials described the strike action as a “go-slow”, it was to all intents and purposes a full blown strike by the magistrates.
The police, who arrested Mr Lehata last week on allegations that he raped a 17-year-old girl from Matsieng, drove the former Makhaleng legislator to the magistrates for his first court appearance on Monday.
Upon arrival in a packed court room, Mr Lehata was turned back because the magistrates had begun the industrial action to protest the government’s failure to address their long-standing welfare grievances. These include concerns about poor salaries, which are said to be way below half of those paid to High Court judges, and lack of security from criminals whose cases would have been handled by the magistrates.
Mr Lehata was subsequently allowed to go home on the understanding that he would return to the magistrates’ court yesterday (Wednesday). Again his case failed to proceed and had to be postponed to Tuesday as there was still no magistrate to preside over it confirming the action as a full strike.
The Lesotho Times was been at the Magistrates’ Court in Maseru since Monday and established that court clerks had been repeatedly allocating new dates for cases that were supposed to be heard this week due to the lack of magistrates.
Information officer at the Magistrates’ Court, ‘Mampota Phakoe, confirmed the strike action but insisted on describing it as a go slow. She told the Lesotho Times that it was a result of long-term grievances of the magistrates which successive governments had failed to address.
“I had originally not been aware that there was a go-slow brewing but on Monday I noted an abnormality in the daily routines as several courts were empty when there were cases that were supposed to be heard.
“I heard that the magistrates were locked in several meetings but I later learnt that it was actually a go-slow which has been going on till Wednesday,” Ms Phakoe said on Wednesday.
On his part, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Mokhele Moletsane, said he was surprised to learn of the go-slow action as he had already met with the magistrates to learn of their grievances as part of efforts to come up with solutions.
“When I assumed office in February 2018, the magistrates in Maseru were among the first people I met and they tabled their grievances. Since the judiciary has different structures from the Court of Appeal down to the local courts, I asked them to give me time to travel throughout the country. This was so that I could learn of all the problems affecting the entire ministry to address them as a whole.
“I was therefore surprised to learn that they had started a go-slow and I met them again on Tuesday and asked them to go back to work as a go-slow would not make the government solve their problems in one day. It is wrong for them to believe that denying people justice will solve their grievances,” said minister Moletsane.
Pressed to explain why magistrates were not at their work stations and cases were being postponed if it was not a strike, JOALE president, Peete Molapo, yesterday told the Sunday Express that the fact the magistrates were not attending to cases did not mean that they were not carrying out their other functions.
“The meetings which we have been having, including one with the minister, are part of our work hence we had to hold them during working hours.
“The magistrates’ work is not limited to listening to cases and remanding people but writing judgements among other things. I can assure you that other functions were continuing even if cases were not being heard. For example, police were there during that week to get post mortem clearances and they were served.
“The minister (Moletsane) has shown keen interest in solving our problems as we are meeting him again this week together with his principal secretary. Hopefully our grievances will be addressed very soon,” Mr Molapo told the Sunday Express yesterday.