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Citizens denied right to justice

AS reported on Page 2 in this issue an ambitious project designed to speed up the delivery of justice is almost screeching to a halt.

The project, which was created with the sole aim of clearing a backlog of 21 000 criminal cases in the High Court and magistrate courts, was established in 2008.

The M54 million maloti Lesotho Justice Sector Backlog Strategy brought hope to many that justice would now be delivered timeously.

There are people whose cases have not been dealt with since the late 1990s.

After coming up with such a brilliant project that could help speed up the delivery of justice, it seemed all was set.

But as we report in this issue the well-intended project has stalled.

The initiative is coming to an end in a few months from now having scored minimal success in achieving its goals since 2008.

Investigations by this paper have revealed that that project has stalled because the justice ministry has failed to pay staff, including police officers and lawyers.

It is regrettable that personnel working on this well-funded project have been forced by circumstances to fork out money from their own pockets to ensure it works.

We question the justice ministry’s priorities to spend the M8 million it received from the finance ministry on hiring vehicles and renting office space when thousands of people have been waiting to have their day in court.

Some people have spent years awaiting trial and the establishment of the Lesotho Justice Sector Backlog Strategy had given them hope that justice would be served sooner than later.

Although the ministry has dismissed claims that the project has stalled but was now being run under a different “improved” case management system being tested in the High Court, citizens continue to be prejudiced of their right to fair and swift justice.

The ministry should have engaged other stakeholders such as the Law Society of Lesotho to measure progress made so far before transferring the project to the High Court.

Such dialogue could have afforded the parties an opportunity to note challenges faced and take corrective measures to put the project back on track.

And with only a few months to go, it is doubtful the project will be able to meet its goals.

As it is myriad problems including non-payment of staff, police failure to track down suspects, serving of summons, continue to dog the initiative.

The Lesotho Justice Sector Backlog Strategy is noble but its good intentions could be eroded by the apparent lack of stock take on what has been achieved so far and mapping the way forward.

The project offers viable solutions for effectively dealing with the backlog of cases before the courts such as the outsourcing of prosecution work to private lawyers in the districts and the holding of sessions at regional level.

The only way to put the project back on track and ensure that it succeeds is for the implementing ministry to involve other stakeholders such as the Law Society of Lesotho and the finance ministry to ensure timely disbursement of funds for the various tasks.

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