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Majara-Thabane fight goes regional

…as prominent lawyers ask SADC to force govt to reverse Chief Justice Majara’s suspension and trial

Pascalinah Kabi

THREE senior lawyers have appealed to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to force the government to reverse the suspension of Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara and stop its plans to have her tried for misconduct.

The three lawyers are Advocates Motia Tele, Karabo Mohau and Zwelakhe Mda (all Kings Counsels). They recently released a hard-hitting statement accusing the government of flagrant violations of court rulings when it suspended Justice Majara on 11 September this year. They also appealed to the regional bloc to take appropriate actions to ensure that Justice Majara is reinstated to her position.

This follows the recent indefinite suspension of Justice Majara from office by His Majesty King Letsie III on the advice of the Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane.

The suspension paves way for a three-member tribunal to try Justice Majara over a litany of misconduct charges including her alleged failure to ensure the timeous delivery of justice.

His Majesty King Letsie III, acting on the advice of Prime Minister Thabane, has since appointed High Court judge, Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase, as the acting Chief Justice. King Letsie III has also appointed three experienced judges from Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe to the tribunal to hear the misconduct charges against Justice Majara.

The three members of the tribunal are Ugandan judge Frederick Egonda-Ntende (who was appointed Seychelles Supreme Court Chief Justice in 2009), Tanzanian judge Augustino S. L. Ramadhoni (who was elected to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights in 2010) and Zimbabwe’s former Minister of Justice and High Court Judge Simbi Mubako.

King Letsie III also appointed High Court Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase as Acting Chief Justice.

And on Sunday, Justice Mahase granted the government’s application for a court order interdicting Justice Majara from entering her office at the High Court and exercising her judicial powers as Chief Justice.

These recent developments have not gone down well with the three lawyers who argue that Justice Majara’s suspension was unlawful and the tribunal must be disbanded as it was established contrary to a “valid order of court”.

The trio stated that on 17 May this year, Justice Majara obtained an order that interdicted Dr Thabane against suspending her and appointing a tribunal to try her until the legality of the government actions against her were determined by the courts.

This was after Dr Thabane has written to her in April this year and requested that she ‘show cause’ why she should not be suspended and impeached for misconduct.

But the Attorney General Advocate Haae Phoofolo on Sunday argued that the suspension was not in contempt of court because in May 2018 Justice Monaphathi only ruled that Justice Majara should not be suspended pending an application that the government intended to lodge seeking the recusal of Justice Lekale from the case that the Chief Justice had brought against the government.

“The (May 2018) interdict (against Justice Majara’s suspension and the appointment of a tribunal) was contingent upon the pursuit of the recusal application which the government elected to abandon and which did not ultimately see the light of day.

“The interdict was never revived nor extended as is being sought to be portrayed (by Justice Majara). What is of crucial importance is the fact that the intended act of ignoring the suspension of 1st respondent (Justice Majara) and the acting appointment of Madam Justice Mahase has created a national confusion which has a deleterious effect on the administration of the state,” Adv Phoofolo stated.

He added: “The allegation that the order of Justice Monaphathi interdicted the government from removing the chief justice pending the determination of a hearing (against her suspension) set for 26 September 2018 is factually incorrect and equally misleading because that is not the position as alleged or at all”.

Adv Phoofolo approached the High Court on Sunday after Justice Majara’s lawyers had advised her to ignore the suspension and report for duty as normal.

The trio also argue that Justice Mahase ruled against Justice Majara without affording her and her lawyers a hearing when the government sought the interdict barring her from exercising her duties.

“We call on SADC to take appropriate action in Lesotho to bring this unsavoury state of affairs to a stop,” the trio stated.

“The starting point should be the immediate disbandment of the tribunal unlawfully appointed contrary to a valid order of court, and the reinstatement of the Chief Justice as her removal was clearly unlawful and unconstitutional.

“The unconstitutional re-engineering of the upper echelons of the judiciary in Lesotho by the executive is clearly aimed at capturing the judiciary so that it delivers decisions that are to be liking of the executive. This is all happening under SADC’s watch, and history will surely judge all those who can and should do something but choose to look the other way.”

The three lawyers further appealed to Justices Egonda-Ntende, Ramadhoni and Mubako to decline their appointments to sit on the tribunal that will try Justice Majara.

“We call upon judges and countries that have been approached to assist in the defiance of court orders by participating in the tribunal set up in spite of a court order to the contrary not to help the executive in Lesotho to undermine the authority of the courts and the constitution of Lesotho.

“We call on the legal fraternity, human rights, other state and non-actors in the sub-region and beyond to come to the assistance of the people of Lesotho at this very dark hour in the history of this country’s judiciary when the executive pays scant regard to orders of court that it dislikes.”

The trio also laid into Justice Mahase who they accused of presiding over and granting an interdict against Justice Majara in a case in which she (Justice Mahase) was an interested party.

“It boggles the mind how this order was sought before a judicial officer who was clearly conflicted by reason of what she stands to gain from Chief Justice Majara being kept out of her office.

“It is also difficult to understand how Justice Mahase could have missed the point that she was conflicted in the matter. This entire episode has surely brought the administration of justice in Lesotho into disrepute. This mockery of justice should not be permitted to continue any further if this country is not to descent into complete anarchy.

“Justice Mahase has, following her appointment as Acting Chief Justice, directed that Justice Majara’s case challenging the decision to take action against her should not proceed on the 26 September 2018 as previously arranged. She (Justice Mahase) has also decided to disband the panel of judges who were already seized with the matter; and she is poised to arrange for the appointment of a different panel of judges.”

The lawyers also claimed that there “moves afoot” to arrest Justice Majara’s lawyer, Adv Qhalehang Letsika KC. They said the planned arrest of Adv Letsika “was clearly intended to intimidate legal practitioners against representing people that the executive does not want to be accorded a fair hearing before the courts of law”.

They vowed to resist any attempts to intimidate them.

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