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Magistrates appeal to minister

Nat Molomo

MASERU — Magistrates have asked the Justice Minister to intervene in their dispute with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
In a letter dated February 15 the Judicial Officers Association of Lesotho (Joale) told Minister Mpeo Mahase-Moiloa that they had lost confidence in the JSC.
Joale which represents magistrates accuse the JSC of “arbitrariness, discrimination, victimisation and intimidation” in the appointment and promotion of judicial officers.
The JSC had no guidelines to deal with the appointments, promotions and discipline of judicial officers, said the magistrates.
They said there was neither accountability nor transparency in the appointment and promotion of judicial officers.
To support their claims the magistrates point to the recent redeployment of former High Court and Court of Appeal registrar “Mathato Sekoai to the position of Chief Magistrate South.
Sekoai was redeployed by the JSC last Wednesday after High Court judges accused her of incompetence, insubordination, arrogance and corruption.
The JSC eventually bowed down to pressure after the judges threatened to boycott the courts if Sekoai was not removed.
Following her deployment the magistrates started their own fight against her and threatened to strike if she takes up her new position.
In their letter to the justice minister the magistrates said Sekoai’s appointment was one of the many cases that indicate that the JSC was not guided by any criteria in appointing judicial officers.
They repeated their claims last week that Sekoai should not have been appointed because the position was never advertised.
They also said Sekoai did not deserve to become a chief magistrate because she lacks experience as a judicial officer and she is facing an investigation over alleged corrupt activities.
The magistrate said although the JSC requires officers to have “extensive experience on the bench” before they are promoted “there have been instances an officer without any extensive experience has been promoted in succession within a short space of time without any justification being advanced”.
They allege that when they asked for the guidelines used in the appointment and promotion the JSC “responded by indicating that they are not accountable (to the magistrates) and that any officer who is aggrieved at any given time was free to resign”.
“There is no regard for judicial precedence and legitimate expectation of serving officers with extensive experience in the judiciary,” the magistrates said.
The magistrates told the minister that they were not happy that officers in the registrar’s office were being laterally transferred to become Resident Magistrates.
This, they said, is being done despite that officers from the registrar’s office have no experience on the bench and there are some eligible magistrates who would have applied for such positions.
“The other result of this is that there is no consideration for the extensive experience and qualification of our chief magistrates,” the letter said.
To drive this point home the magistrates give the example of Matlatsi Kolisang, a deputy registrar who was appointed Resident Magistrate.
They also point to Sekoai’s recent appointment.
One chief magistrate who has 10 years experience and holds a master’s degree in law has been overlooked during the appointment of judges, the letter said.
“Our grievance is that we are of the view that the JSC appears to have lost confidence in its chief magistrates with the result that our legitimate expectation of any upward movement is frustrated.”
There is also victimisation and discrimination of judicial officers who are perceived to be a threat to the judiciary because there are members of Jaole or have made recommendations for judiciary reforms, the magistrates added.
“Our concern is that the principles of natural justice are not observed as some members of the JSC become judges in their own case without according the officers the opportunity to defend themselves,” the magistrates said.
“We are also concerned that if the JSC continues to appoint and/or promote officers within the judiciary without any set criteria they will appoint people who are not eligible for appointment to high positions which are provided for by the Act to the detriment of the entire judiciary.”
The magistrates said they have become so “demoralised to the extent that they no longer apply for advertised vacant positions because they invariably know that their applications will not be favourably considered”.
They recommend that the JSC be reconstituted to include representatives of other stakeholders.
The JSC is chaired by Chief Justice Mahapale Lehohla and its other members are the attorney general and the chairperson of the Public Service Commission.
The registrar of the High Court and Court of Appeal sits in the JSC as a secretary. Magistrates and other stakeholders like the Law Society of Lesotho feel that the commission is not fully representative.
The magistrates also feel that the chief justice has too much control over the commission’s decisions.
The JSC employs judiciary officers that include registrars, judges and magistrates.

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