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JSC rejects magistrates’ plea

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Mohalenyane Phakela

THE Judicial Service Commission (JSC) says it will not consider the magistrates’ plea to appoint them to the High Court bench to fill up the posts left vacant by the deaths and retirement of some judges.

This as punishment for copying its letter on the issue to media.

Last week, the magistrates, who fall under the Judicial Officers Association of Lesotho (JOALE), wrote to the JSC requesting it to recommend some magistrates for appointment as judges by King Letsie III.

This after they were recently overlooked in the proposed appointments of five new judges by Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase and Attorney General Advocate Haae Phoofolo. The two met three weeks ago and recommended five candidates for appointment as judges.

The five are Deputy Attorney General Tšebang Putsoane, lawyers ‘Maliepollo Makhetha, Tšabo Matooane, Mokhele Matsau and Moneuoa Kopo.

None of the five recommended by Justice Mahase and Adv Phoofolo are magistrates.

This despite that a significant number of magistrates have been dispensing justice in the lower courts for 10 years or more. Some like Chief Magistrate ‘Matankiso Nthunya have been magistrates for 25 years.

She has been overlooked nonetheless and only magistrate Polo Banyane was promoted to acting judge last year as the JSC sought to ease the shortage of judges which has been exacerbated by the deaths of Lebohang Molete and Lisebo Chaka-Makhooane on 30 May and 14 July 2020 respectively.

The 31 July 2020 retirement of Justices Semapo Peete and Teboho Moiloa further reduced the number of judges to just eight. But despite this, the JSC has overlooked experienced magistrates for promotion, a fact they lament in their 24 August 2020 letter to the JSC.

“As the executive committee of the Judicial Officers Association of Lesotho … we would like to propose on behalf of every magistrate, that the commission (JSC) should consider deserving magistrates for the appointment of the current and any subsequent vacant positions of the judges of the High Court,” JOALE secretary, Masopha Kao, stated in the letter to the JSC.

“Indeed, in the past judges have been appointed from the lower bench (magistracy). However, it is our considered opinion that that was sparingly done. It is our view that there are still deserving magistrates ripe for such appointments.

“Every professional, across all professions globally, would like to progress in their field. As such, it is every magistrate’s dream to become a judge. The High Court and Magistrates’ Courts are part of a single judiciary in Lesotho.

“Thus, magistrates have a legitimate expectation that, as part of their progression within the judiciary, they would be given an opportunity to serve as His Majesty’s judges whenever such opportunities arise…We thus, propose that above everyone else, magistrates be given the first priority in the upcoming appointments.”

JOALE copied its letter to Law and Justice Minister Professor Nqosa Mahao. The letter was also copied to all media houses and this has not gone well with the JSC.

JSC secretary, Adv ‘Mathato Sekoai, this week said they would not even bother responding to the magistrates because they had copied their letter to the media in violation of JSC rules.

Section 6 of the JSC rules state that, “No person shall publish or disclose … the contents of any document, communication or information … in respect to a matter relating to the commission (JSC)”.

“I have received the (magistrates’) letter but I am failing to understand why it was copied to the media,” Adv Sekoai told the Sunday Express.

“I will not respond to the letter because responding to it would mean that I have to copy my response to the media as well.  Copying the media in JSC business is against the rules,” added Adv Sekoai.

She suggested that in writing to them, the magistrates were attempting to exert undue influence on the JSC to appoint some of them as judges. She said the JSC would resist such attempts to influence it by the magistrates or anyone else.

“It seems everyone wants to have a stake in the appointment of judges now. The JSC shall not be subjected to any influence when it nominates judges but it shall do that on its own,” Adv Sekoai said.

On his part, Magistrate Kao said JOALE members had not yet received an official response from the JSC.

“We have not received a response from the JSC secretary. But if it is her stance not to respond to us because we copied our letter to the media, then we will have to meet to map the way forward,” Magistrate Kao said.

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