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Appoint Chief Magistrate Nthunya and eight others as judges: lawyers

Mohalenyane Phakela

THE Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights (LLHR) has asked the Law Society of Lesotho to recommend to King Letsie III the appointment of Chief Magistrate ‘Matankiso Nthunya and eight prominent lawyers as judges.

The eight lawyers are Advocates Motiea Teele, Karabo Mohau, Salemane Phafane, Hopolang Nathane, Sekake Malebanye, ‘Masabata Ramafole and attorneys Tšabo Matooane and Moroasi Tau-Thabane.

In a letter to the Law Society president’s Adv Mosoeunyane Masiphole this week, LLHR president, Adv Zwelakhe Mda, said the new appointments to the High Court bench were necessary because of the shortage of judges. The shortage has resulted in a huge backlog of cases said to be well over 4000.

“One of the statutory roles of the Law Society of Lesotho is to assist in the administration of justice,” Adv Mda states in his letter dated 12 August 2020. The letter is copied to the Law and Justice Minister Professor Nqosa Mahao, the Attorney General, Adv Haae Phoofolo, and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

“It is an obvious and trite fact that while several offices of judges have become vacant due to the sad passing and retirement of the incumbents, the need to beef up the compliment of judges has been there for decades with dire consequences to the administration of justice (sic). This situation needs to be addressed with utmost urgency as the Kingdom’s democratic project cannot succeed without an effective judiciary.

“It is for the foregoing reasons that the Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights suggests that the undermentioned legal practitioners and judicial officer be appointed to the High Court bench immediately, even if temporarily…

“The suggested candidates for appointment, without any order of preference are: Advocates Motiea Teele, Karabo Mohau, Salemane Phafane, Hopolang Nathane, Sekake Malebanye, ‘Masabata Ramafole, Attorneys Tšabo Matooane and Moroasi Tau-Thabane and Ms ‘Matankiso Nthunya.”

However, the law society’s president, Adv Mosoeunyane Masiphole, said they were not bound to act on the recommendations of the LLHR.

“The LLHR is an independent body distinct from the Law Society and therefore it (LLHR) does not have the legal authority to ask us to do anything as they did with their letter recommending certain people for appointment as judges.

“When the JSC gives the law society an opportunity to vet names of potential appointees, we will then call a special meeting for our members to nominate those they see fit to be appointed as judges,” Adv Masiphole said.

He said his organisation had already written to the JSC’s secretary, Adv ‘Mathato Sekoai, requesting that the JSC also considers lawyers and not just magistrates when nominating candidates for appointment as judges by King Letsie III. He said Adv Sekoai replied last month, saying the JSC would discuss the Law Society’s submissions and inform them when a decision has been made.

He also said that Magistrate Nthunya was not a member of the Law Society and therefore they would not nominate her to be a judge. He said they only nominated their members for appointment.

There are currently only eight judges in the country. There has been a chronic shortage of judges over the years and the situation has been aggravated by the enforced departure of former Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara, the recent deaths of some judges and the retirement of others.

There were 13 judges last year but the number came down to 11 after the death of Justice Maseshophe Hlajoane and the resignation of Justice Majara. Justice Majara was forced to step down by then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane who had accused her of incompetence and failure to deal with the huge backlog of cases.

Last year’s promotion of then Magistrate Polo Banyane to acting judge meant there were now 12 judges.

But tragedy struck this year when two judges, Lebohang Molete and Lisebo Chaka-Makhooane, died WITHIN two months of each other.

Justice Molete died on 30 May 2020 while being ferried to Willies Hospital for treatment for complications arising from a recent stroke.

Justice Chaka-Makhooane died of Covid-19 at Maseru Private Hospital on 14 July 2020.

There were now only 10 judges left but the number came down to the current eight when Justices Semapo Peete and Teboho Moiloa retired on 31 July 2020 after reaching the statutory retirement age of 75.

Prof Mahao yesterday told the Sunday Express that the government was in the process of assisting the JSC to recruit more judges. He said an announcement would be made in due course.

“That (recruitment of new judges) is work in progress which is not yet ready for public consumption. We will make an announcement at the right time which could be in a few weeks’ time,” Prof Mahao said.

A fortnight ago, his principal secretary, Retired Colonel Tanki Mothae, told the Lesotho Times that they were in the process of securing funds to recruit more judges and equip the judiciary.

He did not say when the process would be complete.

“The judiciary, as the other arm of state, has to be fully functional and it is the government’ duty to ensure that,” Rtd Col Mothae said.

“It is so unfortunate that we have lost two judges and others have reached their retirement age…We are in the process of securing funds which will ensure that the judiciary is equipped and more judges will be recruited,” he added.

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