Acting Chief Justice under fire

Mohalenyane Phakela

SCORES of protestors on Friday waved placards at the opening of the 2019 judicial year in Maseru, denouncing Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase, who they accused of abdicating her responsibilities to dabble in politics.

The Sunday Express subsequently established that the protestors were supporters of Professor Nqosa Mahao whose bid to contest the deputy leader’s position in the ongoing All Basotho Convention (ABC) elections was thrown out by the party’s outgoing national executive committee (NEC).

They were protesting what they said were deliberate delaying tactics by Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase in handling and delivering a verdict on Prof Mahao’s appeal against his disqualification from the elections which got underway on Friday and ended yesterday.

Prof Mahao was nominated by the ABC’s Koro-Koro constituency committee to contest the deputy leader’s post at the party’s elective conference.

He had been billed to contest against Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro, party chairperson Motlohi Maliehe and the acting incumbent, Public Works and Transport Minister Prince Maliehe.

Whoever wins will stand in good stead to eventually succeed Prime Minister Thomas Thabane when the latter eventually bows out as both leader of his party and country.

However, the ABC’s NEC disqualified Prof Mahao on the grounds that he had not served in the party structures for the required 36 months to be eligible to stand in the elections.

The Koro-Koro committee however, challenged the ABC’s decision in the High Court and lost the case on 13 January 2019.

The Koro-Koro committee subsequently appealed to the Court of Appeal who subsequently referred the case back to the High Court. The High Court was expected to rule on the case last Tuesday and only did so on Thursday night with Justice Mahase throwing out the Koro-Koro committee’s appeal.

The Koro-Koro committee then appealed to the Court of Appeal on Friday, the very day that the ABC’s elective conference got underway.

And on Friday, scores of Prof Mahao’s supporters thronged the High Court to register their displeasure with Justice Mahase.

The protestors peacefully stood behind a police barrier and hoisted their placards as the acting chief justice inspected the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) battalion which was part of the proceedings.

One placard read, “Maseforo Mahase since when are you a politician”, another read, “Be a judge not a politician”.

Yet another placard advised Justice Mahase to “Ask (Chief Justice) Nthomeng Majara what happened to her Mahase”.

Some of the guests moved around taking pictures of the placards and the protestors who remained in place until the proceedings moved to the courtroom where Justice Majara delivered her opening speech.

Some of the protestors told the Sunday Express that they were all ABC members who were rallying behind Prof Mahao and they were pressing for his inclusion in the list of candidates for the deputy leader’s post.

One protestor accused Justice Mahase of deliberately delaying the Koro-Koro court challenge until Thursday night which was a day before the ABC conference got underway.

She said “it was clear that Justice Mahase was acting in favour of the ABC’s NEC because she even refused to give our (Koro-Koro committee’s) lawyer (Advocate Khotso Nthontho) a copy of her judgement so he could appeal her decision at the Appeal Court”.

“On Wednesday towards midnight, the Acting Chief Justice said that she would deliver the judgement on Thursday and our lawyers should check with her secretary at around 11am.

“We arrived at the court on Thursday before 11am and we were told that the judgement was being typed. But we waited until 7pm when she decided to deliver the judgement. And instead, she (Justice Mahase) said she did not have time to prepare a typed judgement therefore she would only read out a handwritten one.

“Before then, she wasted time in between the court proceedings. She would simply delay to enter the courtroom and further take unnecessarily long breaks. It was clear she was delaying so that she would grant our lawyers judgement at a very late stage when there would no time for them to lodge an appeal.

“Even as we speak, our lawyer is still waiting for her to furnish them with the copies of her judgements so that they can appeal her decision.”

On Wednesday, the Koro-Koro committee lawyer, Advocate Khotso Nthontho, incurred the wrath of Justice Mahase.

This was after Adv Nthontho told Justice Mahase that she had not complied with a directive of the Court of Appeal to have heard the case and delivered judgement by 2pm on Tuesday.

Adv Nthontho said in view of the court’s failure to deliver judgement on Tuesday, he intended to apply to the court to suspend the ABC’s elective conference until his clients’ case had been finalised.

“I have been instructed by my clients that I should apply for a stay of the ABC elective conference pending the finalisation of this matter,” Adv Nthontho said.

“This matter was remitted to this court for it to deal with the merits and it was a directive of the Court of Appeal to have dealt with the matter by 2pm yesterday (Tuesday) but that notice has not been complied with by this court.

“This court fixed timelines as to when the merits of the case would be dealt with and that was at 11am yesterday but that was not done. It was also a directive of this court that we come and address the merits at 2pm yesterday (Tuesday) but this case commenced at 3pm and still the merits were not dealt with.”

Adv Nthontho’s submissions drew an angry response from Justice Mahase who accused Adv Nthontho of personally attacking her even though she had “gone the extra mile” by attending to the case at 11am on Tuesday instead of 2pm as stipulated by the apex court.

“I was handed a copy of the Appeal Court judgement at 4:20pm on Monday while I was about to knock off but I think I went an extra mile by seeing you (lawyers) at 11am yesterday (Tuesday) instead of the set time of 2pm.

“Do not come to court and argue about things which will not help you achieve anything. You are attacking me personally when it is not my fault that the case did not start at 2pm on Tuesday.

“How do you expect me to move quickly when you keep embargoing me with one paper after another? You just served me with other papers this morning. Do you expect me to sit here like a robot not knowing what is in your papers? This is not how we operate. Actually, this court is adjourned, call me after 20 minutes.”

ACJ Mahase left the courtroom at about 10:30am only to return an hour later.

Delivering her judgement on Thursday night, Justice Mahase said that she had had to work under pressure and did not have time to prepare a typed judgement.

“It was almost impossible to prepare a full judgement as the courts are under pressure and as judges, we are working under straining conditions. Therefore, I would like to pat myself on the shoulder for having managed to prepare this ex tempore (timely) judgement. There is no human being who can work under such pressure.

“It is very disheartening that it has become a norm for politicians to rush to the court without consulting remedies in their (parties’) constitution. It is not understandable why a special conference was not held to solve this matter, even if it meant the amendment of the constitution of party. I plead with NECs to clean their houses.

“I am aware that in terms of the (ABC) constitution the NEC elections are held every five years. I do not understand why applicants waited for the last minute to open a court case yet they knew way ahead about the conference.

“The main application and prayer 2(g) (application to defer elective conference) are dismissed with costs to applicants,” ACJ Mahase said.

Adv Nthontho attempted to get a written judgement of the two applications in order to prepare an appeal with the apex court but he was told by the High Court’s Assistant Registrar, Mojela Shale, that this was not possible as Justice Mahase was busy preparing her speech for the official opening of the 2019 judicial year which was on Friday.



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