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Call to improve calibre of judges

Caswell Tlali

MASERU – A former attorney general and ex-law lecturer has called on the government to revamp the appointment process for judges.

Kelebone Maope said some of the things being done by the judiciary were embarrassing.

“Some of the things happening in courts are so embarrassing that I am not comfortable talking about them.

“There are some good judges indeed but I cannot feel ashamed to say there are some whose things are misty. If you look at the way language is used in courts …it is embarrassing,” he said.  

Some of the cases that were allowed to go to the Court of Appeal displayed incompetence and ignorance of court procedures by law officers.

Parties in dispute also went into unnecessary expenses because lawyers break rules when filing cases in appeal courts.

Maope said it was crucial for the authorities to carefully consider the calibre of people who are being appointed to the bench.

“Until now it seems that a person is appointed to the bench merely because he was a magistrate or he held a certain position,” Maope, who is also the leader of the Lesotho People’s Congress party, said. 

Judges are appointed by King Letsie III following recommendations by the Judicial Services Commission.

Maope’s comments came after Justice Minister Mpeo Mahase-Moiloa told parliament on Wednesday that the Lesotho Court of Appeal was the only one performing well.

“In my view the time has come to make changes regarding how lawyers are trained,” he said.

Maope suggested for one to qualify to study for Bachelor of Laws (LLB) he should be in possession of a first degree.

“The LLB should be a post-graduate qualification.”

He noted that the School of Law at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) has not progressed since 1966 when Lesotho attained independence.

It was realised then that there were no lawyers in Lesotho and there was a makeshift arrangement to train lawyers quickly.

“Things have not changed until now and I am of the view that training should be improved,” Maope said.

He said there should be a practical legal training school to sharpen new lawyers before they could be admitted to the bar.

In other countries new lawyers are attached to law firms to gain experience before they can be allowed to practice on their own.

There have been sharp reactions from lawyers to Maope’s comments in parliament.

A young lawyer who owns a law firm, Tekane Maqakachane, told the Sunday Express that much as he shares Maope’s sentiments about the ineptness of beginners who practice unguided, the establishment of the practical legal training school is one of the many avenues that could be taken to remedy the situation.

These include a provision to train new lawyers by the Law Society of Lesotho for a certain period of time to acquaint them with court processes and other litigation necessities.

The other is to extend the attachment programme for law students so that by the time they complete their studies at the university, they would be competent enough to handle cases on their own.

“In principle I agree that something must be done,” Maqakachane said.

“We also have to ask ourselves if any of these modalities is appropriate in the circumstance.”

Another young lawyer who runs a law firm, Letuka Molati, said the establishment of a school for beginners in law practice is a good idea and should be compulsory for every new lawyer.

Concerning the selection of judges Molati said any lawyer who is competent can be appointed to the bench.

He said selection of judges should be widened so that even ordinary members of the public have a say in who should be a judge.

“A public forum should be set up to select judges where candidates are scrutinised to ascertain if they would be judges of quality or not.”

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