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Whither the rule of law?

News that a rowdy mob stormed the offices of a judge’s clerk and registrar at the Palace of Justice in Maseru is sad.

It is reported that on September 9 2013, a group of people identified as respondents in a case involving Lesotho Public Motor Transport (Pty) Ltd and 19 respondents invaded the offices of Acting Commercial Court judge Lebohang Molete.

Although Justice Molete says it is not clear to him what the rowdy mob’s objective was, he states they claimed they were dissatisfied with a settlement “made by consent of the parties in a matter in which they were not involved”, which case has a bearing on the matter in which they are involved.

That a learned judge has to recuse himself because of misconduct by a group of troublemakers is concerning.

If it’s proven beyond reasonable doubt that such a serious violation was allowed to carry the day at the judicial offices, then all the pillars of government should put their heads together and collectively take remedial action.

Our Mountain Kingdom prides itself in being a stable, young democracy. Its peace is the envy of many other nations in the region and beyond. Our political system has its flaws but it has stood out as functional; particularly last year when there was a peaceful, mature political transition from a Democratic Congress government by Pakalitha Mosisili to a coalition government by incumbent Premier Thomas Thabane.

It was a refreshing experience on a continent plagued by a sizeable bunch of political strongmen who want to govern dictatorially till kingdom come.

Allowing a group of misguided hooligans to take the law into their own hands and disturb the peace at the Palace of Justice would be the beginning of the end for our fledgling democracy.

Such behaviour deserves the severest condemnation possible in our statutes. All members of the legal fraternity should set alarm bells ringing because today it’s Justice Molete, next it will be another judge, then another and so on . . . .

In the end our society will accept and get used to the abnormal as the norm. A few more such violations and the rule of law will be abandoned with disastrous consequences.

In fact all patriotic Basotho from all walks of life must condemn this abomination.

One is reminded of Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the indifference of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

In it he is famously quoted as having said:

“First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

“Then they came for the communists and I did not speak out because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

“Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me”.

Similarly, today the lawless hooligans may be after judges but if they go unchecked they will come after you, whatever your station in our nation.

Lest we forget, the most lawless society in the world did not get there by chance. It is a process which is sparked by an incident, a lawless incident about which good men and women do nothing.

All people of integrity must condemn this tendency where when one does not like a judgment then one faults the judge.

Why should we have lawyers and judges spending all those long hours plodding through files and papers only to have misguided people trash those settlements and judgements painstakingly arrived at?

Why should we have courts at all if we fail to condemn such anarchy?

Judicial officers are the guardians of the rule of law, which is the linchpin of our democracy.

We can never allow ordinary members of the public who, for that matter, have competent legal representation, to interfere willy nilly with the administration of justice.

Such big-headedness would in one fell swoop simply undo all the structures and systems put in place by those who came before us.

It is against this background that we remain concerned about our judicial officers’ safety and security.

They need security both at work and in the private lives.

Let us remember judicial officers are human first with all the emotions that we all have.

If we allow them to be cowed in their offices, that is, at the very doorstep of justice, what would happen when they are mixing with the public outside work?

How safe are they?

We owe it to these men and women of integrity to ease not just the challenges they face in their line of duty but to also guarantee their daily safety and peace as they live their lives among us.

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