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D-Day for top judge

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Staff reporter

MASERU — The case in which Court of Appeal President Justice Michael Ramodibedi is suing Prime Minister Tom Thabane will be heard in the Constitutional Court tomorrow. Justices Suled Potterrill of the Pretoria High Court, Dimpheletse Mashidi from the South Gauteng High Court and John Musi from the Bloemfontein High Court were sworn-in as temporary judges in Lesotho to hear the case two weeks ago.

Justice Ramodibedi wants the Constitutional Court to declare that Thabane was wrong to ask him to resign during a heated a meeting they had on April 22. Justice Ramodibedi, who is also the Chief Justice of Swaziland, is also challenging the government’s decision to withdraw his official cars, a move he alleges was taken after he refused to resign. In his affidavit, Justice Ramodibedi, argues that the prime minister violated the constitution when he asked him to resign.

The Lesotho constitution says no man or authority has the right to ask a judge to resign. It says judges can only be impeached for misbehaviour or failure to perform duties. Justice Ramodibedi says he has done none of that. Tomorrow the three judges are likely to deal with a dispute of facts on what really happened during the April 22 meeting between the prime minister and Justice Ramodibedi.

Justice Minister Mophato Monyake has filed an answering affidavit disputing the judge’s account of the meeting. He said the prime minister never asked the judge to resign. He said the prime minister asked if the judge would consider resigning to allow the government to resolve the crisis in the judiciary.
Monyake who was in the meeting alleged that the judge “stormed out” of the meeting before the discussion could go further.

He also revealed that the prime minister was planning to advise the king to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate Justice Ramodibedi with a view to impeach him. Monyake alleged that the judge was under investigation for a false insurance claim filed by his driver, fraud and other misdemeanours.
In his answering affidavit the judge denied all the allegations raised by the minister. The meeting at which Thabane is alleged to have asked the judge to resign came barely a month after Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla went on leave pending retirement early next month.

Since coming to power in June last year Thabane has been on a drive to bring sanity to a judiciary that has been dogged by infighting at the top and a huge backlog of cases. At the centre of the crisis were the battles between Justice Lehohla and Justice Ramodibedi over who is the head of the judiciary. The Lesotho constitution is silent on that issue but is clear that the Court of Appeal president ranks above the Chief Justice in seniority.

The two judges however have never agreed on who is senior, resulting in several clashes that have triggered calls for their resignation. The government says the dispute brought the judiciary into disrepute and affected the courts’ ability to deliver justice. Lesotho’s courts are painfully slow in dealing with cases.
Some cases have been in the courts since the early 1990s. The government says the fights between the two judges could have exacerbated this problem and the prime minister had to intervene.

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