MASERU— Several lawyers have complained to the Law Society of Lesotho about the contempt they get from the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) when they are representing soldiers against the army.
Some lawyers this week said the army had become hostile to any legal practitioner who helps a soldier lodge a court case against it.
One prominent advocate said when he tried to serve the army with a court order granted against it he was “treated like dirt”. Another advocate said he had been sent from pillar to post by senior military officials when he tried to serve papers on the army. And yet another lawyer said the army told him that his client, a soldier, was not a member of the LDF.
TheSunday Express spoke to three other lawyers who narrated how the army had treated them with contempt when they tried to represent soldiers in court cases against the LDF. The law society has been silently dealing with these complaints for some months now but two weeks ago it was forced to go public about the issue.
This was after Justice Semapo Peete had recused himself from a case involving a junior soldier and the army. Justice Peete told Theko Lerotholi’s lawyer, Advocate ’Mole Khumalo, he could not hear his urgent application because he had been chastised by Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla after issuing another order against the army months earlier.
He said after that order LDF commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli had met with the chief justice to complain. The chief justice had then called the judge and allegedly rebuked him over the order. Evidence that the commander had met the chief justice was also contained in Lerotholi’s affidavit attached to his urgent application that was later granted by Justice‘Maseforo Mahase.
Lerotholi said the commander had told a parade of 600 soldiers that he had already met those at the “helm of the judiciary” to deal with soldiers who use court orders to disobey his command. The commander has also threatened to arrest lawyers who represent soldiers against the army, Lerotholi claimed.
Lerotholi also complained to the Law Society of Lesotho about the commander’s interference with the courts. That was when law society president Advocate Monaheng Rasekoai issued a cautious statement that however confirmed that lawyers were unhappy with their treatment by the army.
“The Law Society further acknowledges that it received grievances from its membership, both senior and junior members of the bar and side-bar, which stem from the conduct of the agents of the LDF whenever attempts are made by legal practitioners to facilitate judicial processes for their clients,” reads Resekoai’s statement.
“In my official capacity as the President of The Law Society of Lesotho, I wish to state on record on behalf of the legal profession of which I am the loyal servant that all lawyers shall remain fully committed to the pursuance of the values sanctioned under the Constitution of Lesotho,” he said.
“We shall faithfully execute the mandate given to us by our clients, regardless of whether they are civilians or members of any of the armed forces.”
“We wish to reaffirm and restate the position to the effect that no man under the sun within this jurisdiction is above the law regardless of status, pedigree or affiliation.” Rasekoai said members of the military are constitutionally empowered to approach lawyers at any point in time when they feel that their sacrosanct rights are violated or are likely to be trampled upon.
“I further wish to place on record that all the members of the armed forces with the inclusion of the top echelons in the military hierarchy are subjects of the law,” he said. Rasekoai refuted “any claim or impression” that Lesotho lawyers “are meek and intimidated by any institution of government in their pursuance of justice and the upholding of the rule of law.”
He said lawyers have an obligation to the public to protect their rights and restore confidence in courts.
On Wednesday last week Rasekoai was supposed to have met Kamoli to hear whether it is true that he threatened to arrest lawyers from helping their clients who are soldiers. Last week the chief justice denied that he had chastised Justice Peete.
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