MASERU — Six lawyers, half of whom represent Court of Appeal President Michael Ramodibedi in a constitutional case seeking to block his ouster, say they are shocked that a group of Basotho is pushing for his dismissal.
After a poorly attended march on Friday, the group calling itself Concerned Basotho Citizens asked Prime Minister Tom Thabane in a petition to remove Justice Ramodibedi.
The group also handed its petition to Law and Constitutional Affairs Minister Haae Phoofolo, himself a longtime attorney in the courts of Lesotho, Justice Minister Mophato Monyake and the Acting Chief Justice Tšeliso Monaphathi.
That petition has riled the six senior lawyers who have warned the group against pushing for the judge’s removal.
Advocates Salemane Phafane, Sakoane Sakoane Motiea Teele, Letuka Molati, Karabo Mohau, Zwelakhe Mda and Attorneys Molefi Ntlhoki and Qhalehang Letsika issued a statement of dismay on Friday.
The lawyers say they “discovered with a sense of shock and dismay” that the group marched to Thabane to push for the judge’s removal.
The lawyers say although they accept that all citizens have a right to express their opinion and views, they must know that the constitution guarantees the institutional independence of the courts and security of tenure of judicial officers.
“The Constitution of Lesotho is very clear that no person or authority has the power or right to require a judge of the Court of Appeal or other similarly protected constitutional office to retire from the public service,” reads part of the lawyers’ statement.
“It follows that the suggested method sought by the aforementioned group is extra-constitutional and runs contrary to the ethos and values espoused by the constitution.”
The lawyers cite section 125(5) and (6) of the Constitution as the only provision through which a Court of Appeal judge can be removed. The section provides that for the removal of any Court of Appeal judge, except the President, the King at the advice of the President shall establish a tribunal that will find if the judge has been incapacitated from performing his duties or has misbehaved.
That tribunal shall advise the King on whether to remove the judge or not.
In the case of the President, the King at the advice of the Prime Minister, shall establish a similar tribunal to find if he is worthy of being removed or not.
“We therefore urge this group and others that may wish the removal of the judicial officers to exercise their freedom of expression and opinion sparingly,” the lawyers warn.
The lawyers have also denied that Justice Ramodibedi is ineffective as a judge, as suggested by the group.
“We reject with contempt the suggestions and insinuations made by members of this group that Justice Ramodibedi does not execute his duties properly and that he is not effective,” they wrote.
“History will bear us testimony that these allegations are baseless, unfortunate, regrettable and at worst false because Justice Ramodibedi has acquitted himself as one of the best and exemplary jurists Lesotho has ever had.”
The lawyers say they can testify that Justice Ramodibedi has “delivered some of the groundbreaking judgments, which have left a permanent jurisprudential legacy for Lesotho and her subjects”.
They praised Justice Ramodibedi whose performance has “landed him in high powered judicial offices such as President of the Court of Appeal of Seychelles, the Chief Justice of Swaziland … and the Justice of the Court of Appeal of Botswana”.
Justice Ramodibedi is also the Chief Justice of Swaziland.