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Impeach Chief Justice, rights group says

Staff Reporter

MASERU — A human rights organisation wants Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla impeached.
The Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights (LLHR), a grouping of lawyers headed by former Law Society of Lesotho president Advocate Zwelakhe Mda called on Prime Minister Tom Thabane to start the impeachment process in a letter hand-delivered to his office on Friday.
The call came in a week Court of Appeal President Justice Michael Ramodibedi was forced to cancel the court’s January session after the chief justice barred High Court judges from helping hear cases in the apex court.
Justice Ramodibedi blasted Justice Lehohla in a strongly-worded statement he read in an open court on Monday when he announced the cancellation of the session which was supposed to hear six cases.
On Wednesday afternoon the Law Society of Lesotho also wrote to the prime minister, asking him to set up a commission to investigate the crisis in the judiciary.
It called the fight between the top judges “a constitutional crisis”.
A special meeting of the society’s members tomorrow is expected to pass a resolution to call for the resignation of the two warring judges.
In its letter to Thabane the LLHR says the chief justice “is the author of the crisis bedevilling” the judiciary.
It lists five reasons which it says are “solid grounds” for the chief justice’s removal:
? Since his appointment in 2002 the chief justice has not heard contested matters despite that the High Court has a huge backlog of cases.
“It is significant that one of the grounds for removal of a judge is inability to perform the functions of his/her office.”
? Two letters by High Court judges last year tacitly accused the chief justice of impropriety, “denoting his covering up of or condoning corrupt practices attributed to the former Registrar of the High Court and Court of Appeal Mrs (Mathato) Sekoai.”
“Such serious allegations emanating from chief justice peers, as they did, warrant serious consideration and ought to be investigated by a lawfully constituted tribunal. If proved, a case for his removal on the ground of misbehaviour would have been established”.
? The chief justice’s “pathological obsession with the issue of seniority has resulted in him losing his gravitas and behaving in a manner lacking in decorum or amounting to reckless conduct”.
The organisation points to the incident that happened in Mohale’s Hoek during the King’s birthday celebration in July last year when the chief justice “caused an official vehicle conveying him to be driven in a dangerous and reckless manner”.
“This public spectacle was disrespectful of His Majesty the King, the Right Honourable Prime Minister, His government and the nation”.
It says his behaviour brought his “revered office” into disrepute and “constituted a ground for removal for misbehaviour”.
? The chief justice has used his position as chairman of the Judiciary Service commission (JSC) “as an instrument of punishment and reward”.
“For instance, it is an open secret that promotions following interviews in the JSC are premised but on seniority and competence, not on whether one is an active member of the Judicial Officers Association of Lesotho (a vociferous critic of the chief justice’s style of administration).
This, the LLHR says, has led to the exodus and shedding of numerous senior and competent judicial officers… thus negatively impacting on the quality of justice dispensed by the subordinate courts”.
? The cancellation of the Court of Appeal session “is evincive of the latest orchestrated implosion of the judiciary”.
The LLHR further accuses the chief justice of holding the country’s judiciary to ransom.
“Accordingly LLHR here makes a special plea to His Excellency to discharge his constitutional duty by representing the question of the removal of the question of the chief justice to the King as enjoined by the provision of section 121 of the constitution of Lesotho,” the letter says.
The organisation says if the prime minister does not start the impeachment process it will have no option but to “seek urgent intervention of the courts of law for appropriate relief in order to save the nation”.
Established last year, the LLHR says it seeks to help protect and promote human rights in Lesotho.
It also says it seeks “to engage in public interest litigation and class actions for protecting the rights of the poor and other disadvantaged groups in society”.

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