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Magistrates vow to oppose registrar’s new powers

Tefo Tefo

MASERU — Chief magistrates say they want to challenge a new law that gives the registrar of the High Court and Court of Appeal ‘Mathato Sekoai supervisory powers over them at the Constitutional Court.
The chief magistrates wrote a letter to Sekoai on Tuesday informing her that they want to challenge the proposed restructuring exercise in the Constitutional Court.
“We are committed to urgently approach the Constitutional Court for declaratory orders against the impugned provisions in the Act and to protect the Constitution from being violated and to facilitate for the efficaciousness in the administration of justice,” the letter says.
The magistrates say the new position is a shift from their earlier recommendations they made in a letter to Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla in October.
In the October letter the chief magistrates and the President of the Labour Court, Lebereko Lethobane, challenged the proposed restructuring exercise that would give Sekoai supervisory powers over them.
The chief magistrates wanted Justice Lehohla to intervene and stop the implementation of the proposed restructuring under the Administration of Judiciary Act of 2011.
But in their letter last week, the magistrates said they were amending the initial letter because “it may embarrass the Chief Justice and the Honourable Judges to deliberate over a subject which they may, subsequently, be called to preside over”.
“The issues raised in our letter are predominantly legal-oriented and not administrative. They concern questions of constitutionalities of the impugned statutory provisions, their efficaciousness and consonance with both good governance and the essentials of basic doctrines appertaining to a democratic constitution.”
The chief magistrates say they want to withdraw their concerns directed to Justice Lehohla because the law that provides for the proposed restructuring of the judiciary was passed by parliament.
“In the said reflections we substitute the identified proposals with a way forward proposal that the issues can only be resolved judicially.
“We observe, in this respect that the Administration of Justice Act 2011 has been passed by parliament and not by the Chief Justice.
“Thus, in recognition of his innocence in the matter, we acknowledge that we may have embarrassed him by expecting him to intervene in the impasse.
“It was out of desperation that we invoked his intercession,” the chief magistrates wrote.
“We, therefore, regret whichever embarrassment or inconvenience which may have occasioned to his Lordship,” they added.
The controversial restructuring seeks to appoint Sekoai to a managerial position above senior judicial officers like magistrates and the president of the Labour Court.
Sekoai will be responsible for coordinating the administration and supervision of the entire judiciary including the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
Under the newly-enacted Administration of Judiciary Act 2011, Sekoai will become the judiciary’s chief accounting officer in charge of all the courts.
But the chief magistrates and the Labour Court president are not happy with the changes.
The senior magistrates from Lesotho’s 10 magistrates’ courts and Lethobane are adamant that the new Act’s provision that gives Sekoai supervisory powers over them is unconstitutional.
The Act makes the registrar a judicial officer but at the same time says she will liaise and coordinate with the principal secretaries and heads of departments on policy matters.
“This will conflict with judicial independence and the discharge of judicial functions and also dictates that the policy-related functions be entrusted upon a non-judicial officer,” the magistrates note.

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