Chief magistrates, Hlaele finally make the cut
. . . as JSC shortlists 18 candidates for eight judges’ posts
FORMER Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s daughter, ‘Mabatšoeneng Hlaele (nee Nkoya Thabane) and the country’s three chief magistrates are among 18 hopefuls who have been shortlisted by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to fill eight vacant posts of High Court judges.
The three chief magistrates are ‘Matankiso Nthunya, ‘Makampong Mokgoro and Manyathela Kolobe.
They were shortlisted alongside current ombudsman, Tšeliso Mokoko, as well as magistrates, Itumeleng Letsika, Teboho Thoso, Monyake Hlabanyane, Peter Murenzi and Thamae Thame.
Other shortlisted candidates are prominent lawyer, Kuili Ndebele, Molemo Monethi, Hopolang Nathane, ‘Mafelile Ralebese, Tšeliso Bale, ‘Maliepollo Makhetha, Moneuoa Kopo and ‘Mamotšelisi Khiba.
Advocates Kopo and Khiba are having a second bite of the cherry and will be hoping for a change of fortunes this time around. The duo had initially been shortlisted for interviews when the JSC called for applications to fill two vacant posts last year. However, they lost out when the JSC hired Realeboha Mathaba and Fumane Khabo as judges in October 2021.
Adv Hlaele, Chief Magistrates Nthunya, Mokgoro, Kolobe and Ombudsman Mokoko were not even shortlisted the last time around. Their omission set tongues wagging and provoked furious protests by the magistrates and the Law Society of Lesotho.
The magistrates, through their association, Judicial Officers Association of Lesotho (JOALE), argued that their members were overlooked despite boasting an average 15 years’ experience of adjudicating cases.
“We do not know what criteria was used to shortlist those six people,” JOALE president, Peete Molapo, said in an August 2021 interview with the Lesotho Times shortly after the JSC had announced a six-person shortlist of candidates which excluded the chief magistrates and others.
“I doubt there was any criteria in the first place. In the beginning, the recruitment process was transparent as people were given the opportunity to apply. But we were shocked when it got to the shortlisting stage.
“The shortlist is highly questionable because none of the magistrates to have made it. There are so many who qualify with over 15 years of experience and they ought to have been given the opportunity to prove themselves in the final interviews. Even in terms of education, most magistrates have masters’ degrees.“This is why we say the criteria has shocked us, if ever it all it was there,” Magistrate Molapo said.
Law Society president, Adv Maqakachane, also expressed concern at the exclusion of some seasoned lawyers. He said they had sought an audience with Justice Sakoane to explain what had actually transpired at the time.
It is not clear whether the audience with the JSC chairperson Sakoane ever materialised. Although the JSC never publicly explained its decision, the Sunday Express has since established that some of the top lawyers were initially snubbed because their tax affairs were not in order with the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA).
One of the lawyers who spoke on this publication on condition of anonymity, conceded that he had not submitted his and law firm’s tax returns to the LRA.
“I had not submitted my tax returns and those of my law firm the last time around. That is why I was snubbed by the JSC the last time I applied to be a judge. You can’t be a judge when your own tax affairs are not in order. I learnt my lesson and this time around I have been shortlisted,” the lawyer said in a weekend interview.
His views were echoed by a JSC source who said they did thorough background checks on prospective judges including verifying that their tax returns were up to date and they did not have any criminal records before shortlisting them for interviews.
The shortlisting of the candidates to fill in the eight vacant judges’ posts was communicated in a 3 February 2022 circular authored by JSC secretary, ‘Mathato Sekoai.
Adv Sekoai said the shortlisted candidates would be interviewed by the JSC panel on a date to be advised.
The JSC is made up of Justice Sakoane, High Court Judge Polo Banyane, Public Service Commission chairperson Moshoeshoe Sehloho and Attorney General Rapelang Motsieloa.
Currently, the High Court has nine judges, namely, Justices Sakoane, Banyane, Mathaba, Khabo, Tšeliso Monapathi, ‘Maseforo Mahase, Molefi Makara, Moroke Mokhesi and Keketso Moahloli.
From the eight who will be recruited as new judges, two will be posted to the Tšifa-li-mali Court Complex in Leribe which has been non-functional since its refurbishment last year due to the shortage of judges.
The other six will be posted to Maseru.