MASERU — Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla has revived his battle against Court of Appeal President Justice Michael Ramodibedi over control of the judiciary. The Sunday Express has been informed that the chief justice has been trying to lobby the new government to push a constitutional amendment that will make him head of the judiciary in Lesotho instead of the Appeal Court president.
For the past four years Justice Lehohla has been bitter about the fact that the president of the Court of Appeal ranks above him in state protocol. Early last year Justice Lehohla complained to the Southern African Chief Justices Forum, a grouping of chief justices from 15 southern African countries, about a March 2009 Cabinet directive that said the most senior judge in Lesotho was the Court of Appeal president and not the chief justice.
Calling the directive a “humiliation”, Justice Lehohla aggressively lobbied the forum to intervene.
The forum wrote to the then Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, asking the government to recognise the chief justice as the most senior judge in Lesotho and the head of the judiciary.
Mosisili’s response to the forum was that matters of protocol were a prerogative of the executive.
He said instead of taking sides with the Justice Lehohla, the forum must remind him to stop being petty and deal with contested matters. But even after that strongly worded letter from Mosisili Justice Lehohla did not stop fighting.
In September that year Justice Lehohla clashed with Justice Ramodibedi over the same issue at the Southern African Chief Justices Forum meeting in Uganda. Justice Lehohla told the meeting that Justice Ramodibedi had usurped his powers with the help of Mosisili and his cabinet.
The other chief justices suggested that the two judges should recommend the government to amend the Constitution to explicitly say who between the chief justice and the Court of Appeal president should be the head of the judiciary.
Without support from the government and the Law Society of Lesotho Lehohla seemed to have given up his fight, at least until June this year. The Sunday Express can now reveal that soon after the Tom Thabane-led government came to power the chief justice started lobbying again.
A highly placed source said since then he had been trying to persuade the government to amend the Constitution to make the chief justice the head of the judiciary. The Constitution is silent on the matter. The cabinet’s decision to make the Court of Appeal president rank above the chief justice was based on the fact that he leads the apex court in the country.
This paper understands that on June 7, two days after Thabane had been sworn in as prime minister, the chief justice resuscitated his bid to push the government to change the protocol ranking.
He instructed the deputy registrar of the High Court, Mojela Shale, to write to the state protocol office in the foreign affairs ministry querying why the Justice Ramodibedi had appeared ahead of him in the protocol list at the prime minister’s inauguration.
Shale’s letter said the chief justice was the head of the judiciary in Lesotho and should therefore have appeared first on the protocol list. The foreign affairs ministry responded to Shale on June 19, telling him that no protocol had been flouted during the inauguration. “The Official Order of Precedence with respect to the President of the Court of Appeal and the Chief Justice was decided upon by Cabinet at its meeting on Tuesday 3 February 1994 as well as at its meeting on Tuesday 24 March 2009,” the ministry said.
“Further to these, on 23 September 1997 cabinet approved a document entitled A Guide to Official Protocol — A Manual of Operations for protocol Officers in Lesotho Chapter 4 of which deals with the order of precedence and reconfirms Cabinet decision of 3 February 1994.” Acting High Court Registrar Lesitsi Mokeke confirmed that Shale had written a letter to the protocol department but said he was not aware of its contents because he was away.
“I have not seen the letter but I heard that there is such a letter authored by the deputy registrar,” Mokeke said on Friday.