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Judiciary in crisis

RECENT events in the judiciary would suggest this critical pillar of our democratic society is headed for a major crisis if it is not already in one.
High Court judge Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase last week went so far as to state that “this country is going to the dogs . . . if it has already not gone to the dogs”.
While the language might have been intemperate and unmeasured for a judge, it served to illustrate the level of exasperation that faced the honourable judge.
Justice Mahase made the remarks after Police Commissioner Kizito Mhlakaza, who is facing a contempt of court charge, failed to appear in court.
Mhlakaza is alleged to have acted in cahoots with Home Affairs Minister Joang Molapo and Foreign Affairs Minister Mohlabi Tsekoa to push for the deportation of controversial businessman Eyob Asemie despite Justice Mahase’s High Court order blocking the deportation.
Both Molapo and Tsekoa are now facing similar contempt of court charges despite their belated decision to comply with the order.
Worryingly this failure to comply with High Court orders and an apparent disdain for our courts have not been isolated events.
There seems to be a shocking “method in this madness”.
A few weeks ago, Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli is alleged to have met Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla to complain about an interim order the High Court had issued against the army.
Justice Lehohla is then alleged to have summoned a High Court judge Justice Semapo Peete and berated him for issuing the order.
It is these events that suggest the judiciary is indeed in serious crisis.
These events have also seriously damaged the public’s perception of our courts.
We urge the chief justice, who is the head of the judiciary in Lesotho, to act promptly to restore the public’s confidence in our courts.
We also believe what has been happening in our courts is a “side show” that has the potential of diverting us from the real issues that are crying out for attention in the judiciary.
This is a judiciary that has been starved of resources to the extent of compromising the delivery of justice.
This is a judiciary that has been battling to clear a huge backlog of cases some of them dating back to the 1990s.
There are hundreds of cases involving murder, rape and theft of Lesotho’s little resources that are still crying out to be addressed.
These cases could remain untouched because those in charge of our courts are busy dealing with a side-show, simple issues that merely call for compliance with High Court orders.
It is critical therefore that those in power lead by example in respecting and defending the rule of law by complying with High Court orders.
If indeed the Chief Justice berated a judge for issuing an order he did not like, Basotho certainly need an explanation of what really happened and why.
The independence of the courts must be defended with all the power that we have.
Unless this alleged interference is nipped in the bud we risk having a pliant judiciary that is at the beck-and-call of the mighty and well-heeled in society.
That would be sad.

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