MASERU — Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla snubbed Court of Appeal President Justice Michael Ramodibedi when he officially opened the High Court session on Friday. Justice Lehohla did not mention the Court of Appeal President or even acknowledge his office when he saluted dignitaries and other invited guests in his keynote address. The Chief Justice also inaugurated the new commercial and magistrates’ courts in Maseru.
The snub marks a new low in relations between the Chief Justice and Justice Ramodibedi who have been locked in a bitter stand-off over who is senior. Justice Lehohla only briefly referred to the apex court when he mentioned in passing the retirement of one of its judges, Justice John Smalberger. According to the protocol as published by the government last year, when the seniority fights between the two top judges became serious, the president of the Court of Appeal is sixth in line after the Speaker of National Assembly, followed by the Chief Justice.
On Friday the Chief Justice skipped the office of the Court of Appeal and saluted Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing after the Speaker of National Assembly. Throughout his speech he avoided talking about the contribution the Court of Appeal made in the delivery of justice in the country. The name Lesotho Court of Appeal appears only once in his 27-page speech.
“Mr Justice Smalberger retired from the Lesotho Court of Appeal bench in October last year. “We wish him a handsome period of well earned relaxation in his retirement,” Justice Lehohla said.
“He has not been replaced because of flaws either substantive or procedural pertaining to the candidacy,” he said. Moves to replace Justice Smalberger were thwarted last October after the Judicial Service Commission, which Justice Lehohla chairs, blocked the appointment. The commission told Justice Ramodibedi that it had been “practically impossible for it to recommend to His Majesty the appointment of any” of the judges whose names he had submitted for consideration.
Justice Ramodibedi had submitted the names of Justice SA Moore from Guyana and Justice Wilfred Thring, a retired Cape Town High Court judge, for consideration as judges of the Lesotho Court of Appeal. The commission was supposed to choose between the two judges to replace Justice Smalberger. The commission felt that Justice Ramodibedi was imposing his wishes on it when he suggested names of judges who could replace Justice Smalberger.