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Judge’s image at stake

FEW can dispute that Justice Michael Ramodibedi is a reputable judge.
He has risen from being a mere lawyer in Maseru to be the president of Lesotho’s Court of Appeal and Chief Justice of Swaziland.
He sits on Botswana’s Supreme Court bench.
For a boy who grew up herding cattle in rural Lesotho this is no mean feat.
He has taught our youths that hard work and dedication pays.
But with this power and responsibility the spotlight has been beamed on Justice Ramodibedi.
Every decision of his will be scrutinised.
Sometimes the outcome of such scrutiny might leave indelible smudges on his reputation.
That is precisely what is happening following his decision in Swaziland to suspend High Court Judge Thomas Masuku for allegedly attacking King Mswati III in a ruling last year.
Swazi lawyers say his decision has brought the judiciary into disrepute.
They say he must be suspended.
Justice Ramodibedi’s charges against Justice Masuku include having an affair with a fellow judge, supporting regime change forces and disrespecting him.
The jury is still out on whether these allegations are substantive or not but it would seem that few people support Justice Ramodibedi’s suspension of Justice Masuku.
He has come under a blistering attack that has spewed a resolution calling for his suspension, protests and damaging allegations of misconduct.
All these might combine to damage his reputation in Swaziland, Botswana, here at home and the world.
Justice Ramodibedi has been labelled a vindictive judge who likes to snuggle with King Mswati III’s regime.
He has also been accused of being an “apologist” for the regime.
The Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations said he allowed “his position as independent custodian of the law to not only be questionable but to descend to the lowest ebb, competing with only Zimbabwe in the region”.
It said his decision on Justice Masuku was “underhanded, petty and vindictive”.
He has “attempted to undermine the constitution, parliament and the judiciary”, the coalition said.
“In our opinion, he has brilliantly succeeded in showing to the world the truth of the sham of the Swazi Constitution. It is an instrument of oppression, not transformation and the chief justice is proving to be its chief whip and apologist.”
In other words the coalition is accusing the chief justice of undermining the rule of law.
It added that his decision “completes an already dreadful pattern of contemptible and obsequious actions and decisions by the chief justice who has abused his powers by attacking a free press, a supposedly sovereign parliament and those judges who are prepared to consider the merits of the facts of a case rather than who the litigants are or how close they are to government and the royal family.”
All these are serious allegations that will damage his reputation if he doesn’t come clean.
A judge’s reputation and integrity is not confined to his country of operation.
What Justice Ramodibedi does in Swaziland also influences how he is perceived back home and by the rest of the world.
The allegations portray him as a power-hungry, biased, petty and vindictive chief justice.
To that already toxic mix add insinuations that he is abusing power and has become a willing hatchet-man for the regime to see how much is at stake for Justice Ramodibedi.
His reputation as a competent, independent, impartial, apolitical, just and professional judge is under threat.
Only he can set the record straight and salvage that reputation.
No country likes a damaged judge in its courts.
In saying this we don’t rule out the possibility that Justice Ramodibedi might be a victim of ulterior motives.
That might be far-fetched but it’s a possibility. Yet even that cannot exonerate Justice Ramodibedi.
It is for him to prove that he is the same judge the world perceived him to be.
We understand his three jobs might be keeping him very busy but we believe he must start the task of cleaning his image now if he wants to keep those jobs.

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