HIGH Court judges have been told to look for alternative transport whenever their official vehicles break down or are taken for routine service.
The government will not hire courtesy or relief cars for judges as was happening in the past.
On face value, this appears a prudent resolution by a cash-strapped government eager to limit its spending.
We assume that this is part of the cost-cutting and belt-tightening measures that Finance Minister Timothy Thahane was talking about in his national budget speech last Friday.
But looking at what has been happening recently, there is need for exceptions.
On Thursday we had Justice Thamsanqa Nomncongo reportedly failing to report for duty because he had transport problems.
Justice Lisebo Chaka-Makhooane’s official vehicle is understood to have broken down and she had no official vehicle last week.
Another judge, Justice Ts’eliso Monaphathi, was understood to be having problems with his official vehicle as well.
Because of those transport problems, cases had either to be delayed or postponed.
Last year we reported about how Justice Justice Maseforo Mahase had to hitch-hike to work because her official vehicle had gone for repairs.
This, we are afraid, is just not right.
One, because some of the judges might not have personal cars, they could end up using public transport together with, perhaps, suspects they will be trying.
Such suspects may easily harm the judges.
Second, this compromises an already struggling judicial system.
The parlous state of the justice administration and delivery system in Lesotho has been chronicled ad nauseum.
The status quo is underscored by a huge backlog of pending court cases dating as far back as the 1990s.
The unwarranted delays in dealing with court cases are a serious indictment of our judiciary.
So giving the judges a rather genuine excuse not to do their work can only slacken further the dispensation of justice in the country.
It is also not far-fetched to suggest that such a scenario as we have now is an affront to the independence of the judiciary.
We only have 11 judges for crying out loud.
Ordinarily, when we talk of judicial independence we think of the political insulation of the judiciary from the legislative and executive arms of state.
But even if the courts are not subjected to influence from the legislature and executive, it does not mean the independence of the judiciary is guaranteed.
Not when judges are poorly paid and do not have everything they need to do their work properly.
When that is the case it means they can be vulnerable.
It means they can be at the mercy of corrupt people including ordinary citizens.
What kind of a country allows its judges to beg for lifts from ordinary people?
True we have serious financial problems but there are some areas that we should not compromise.
The welfare of judicial officers is one such area.
What if an influential person with a pending court case surreptitiously offers a judge whose car is unavailable a relief vehicle?
We have seen it happening in Zimbabwe where the country’s central bank governor injudiciously doled out cars and computers to judges and magistrates.
Now the same governor has a litany of court cases against him for his nefarious activities during the country’s economic meltdown.
We wonder how the judges will handle his cases with integrity and without fear or favour.
Zimbabwe reached that sad stage because it starved and neglected its judges.
The same should not be allowed to happen in our kingdom no matter how cash-strapped we are.
We are not saying our judges must be pampered while the rest of the people struggle to make ends meet.
All we are saying is that they must have transport and live decent lives that do not force them to engage in activities that might compromise their professionalism and impartiality in the long run.
This editorial is not in any way suggesting that our judges are corruptible, but it is critical to keep the temptations at bay by providing them with everything they need to dispense their duties efficiently.
As much as the government’s efforts to cut down on spending are appreciated, the case of the judges’ cars has to be revisited.