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Mahao wants appointment of substantive chief justice deferred

by Sunday Express
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Pascalinah Kabi | Mohalenyane Phakela

LAW and Justice Minister Nqosa Mahao wants the government to defer the appointment of the substantive chief justice until early next year. This to give the government time to enact a law to ensure that the chief justice, Court of Appeal president and all judges are appointed through transparent processes.

Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase has been acting chief justice ever since the former incumbent Nthomeng Majara was sent on forced leave by former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane in September 2018. Justice Majara, who was accused of misconduct and failure to address the huge backlog of cases estimated by some judicial sources to be in the region of 4000, was eventually forced to step down last year.

However, Justice Mahase has not covered herself in glory with her controversial judgements widely viewed as biased in favour of the former prime minister Thabane and his wife, ‘Maesaiah. She has had the dubious distinction of having all her judgements in cases involving the Thabanes overturned by the Court of Appeal, prompting many legal analysts to call for her dismissal.

In his media briefing on Friday, Prof Mahao refused to say whether or not Justice Mahase would be confirmed as the substantive chief justice. He also refused to say how long she would remain in the position in an acting capacity.

He however, said the appointment of a substantive chief justice should be deferred at least until after December 2020 by which time a new law would have been enacted stipulating that all aspiring judges should apply for the posts and be publicly interviewed to ensure that only the most deserving candidates are appointed.

“I know it is very tempting for the Lesotho media to discuss people and I don’t discuss people,” Prof Mahao said when asked about Justice Mahase’s fate.

“I discuss systems and so I will not talk about the acting chief justice but rather the structures and systems. My personal opinion, which I will sell to all stakeholders, is that the appointment process should wait until we have enacted a law that talks to the transparent appointment of judges and the chief justice.

“An aspiring chief justice must apply for that position and be interviewed publicly so that Basotho can be confident that a right person has been appointed into that office.”
He said there was an urgent need to protect the dignity of chief justice’s office by ensuring that appointment to that office was not politicised as was currently the case.
Currently, the appointments of the chief justice and president of the Court of Appeal are made by the King on the advice of the prime minister.

The prime minister is not obliged to consult the cabinet or the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) when making such appointments. This, Prof Mahao said, had led to the politicisation of the appointments and had to be stopped.

He also bemoaned the huge backlog of cases and attributed this to the shortage of judges. He said funds permitting, more judges will be appointed and a new court will be opened in Leribe to ease the huge backlog of cases.

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