MASERU — Justice Minister Mophato Monyake says the executive is “embarrassed” by recent events in the judiciary adding what happened clearly shows our justice system is “overdue for some reform”.
Monyake said this while delivering the opening speech at the Law Society of Lesotho annual general meeting that saw a new council being elected into office on Monday.
“The events of recent times that involve senior members of our judiciary have made headlines in both our local and international media for all the wrong reasons, provoking measured response from the executive as well as the legislature,” he said.
“. . . the executive is very embarrassed with this conduct. The nation is waiting to see what intervention if any the executive will make in order to mend the current situation at the risk of course of being accused of undermining the independence of the judiciary.”
Monyake was referring to the bitter public spat over superiority between then Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla and President of Court of Appeal Michael Ramodibedi.
The fight led to the unprecedented cancellation of the Court of Appeal session in January.
Justice Lehohla is now on an extended leave pending retirement in August.
But his nemesis, Justice Ramodibedi, is however refusing to resign.
Last Monday, Justice Ramodibedi stormed out of a meeting after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane asked him to resign.
Monyake and Law and Constitutional Affairs Minister Haae Phofolo were part of the meeting.
Justice Ramodibedi is insisting he has done nothing wrong.
Monyake said the current situation within the judiciary has left the government with no option but to intervene.
“What is there to be done when court cases are postponed year-in and year-out, denying victims of serious and violent crime timely delivery of justice? What is there to be done when judgments are not written on time?” he asked.
He said in some instances, cases have been heard and verdicts passed but no judgments have been written, denying litigants their right to appeal.
Monyake said the public wants a criminal justice system that ensures that criminals face consequences for crimes they commit.
“There is much that is good about our criminal justice system. It is independent. It is scrupulous in defending the rights of defendants . . . It is staffed by dedicated professionals,” he said.
“But it is also slow, both in bringing cases to a conclusion and in adapting to new ideas and new technologies. It is opaque, with lengthy, complex procedures which make little sense to the public.”
Monyake added that the justice system often tends to “be too concerned with defendants and too little concerned with the victims”.
“We need reform which protects the best of our justice system, protects the values and safeguards all which we cherish, while addressing its weaknesses.”
Monyake said there is also an urgent need to “introduce a case management system in our courts that will be integrated with the police and the correctional services to secure dockets”.
“There is need to regularise the situation that exists between the office of the chief justice and the president of the Court of Appeal. Others have argued that these two should be combined and the chief justice also head the Court of Appeal and indeed all other courts.”