A matter of grave concern

A matter of grave concern

AS reported elsewhere in this edition the Judicial Officers Association of Lesotho (JOALE) last month wrote an explosive eight page letter to Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara raising serious concerns about the state of the judiciary.

The issues raised by the magistrates are a real cause of concern to us.

That is precisely because their concerns, if left unaddressed, can negatively impact the delivery of justice in the lower courts of Lesotho.

It has now been a month since the letter was penned and our hope is that there has been some movement within the corridors of power at the Palace of Justice to act on the magistrates’ concerns.

To ignore the concerns would send a wrong message to the magistrates who are in the frontline in delivering a key service to society.

In their letter dated July 27, 2017 the magistrates raise several issues. We will focus on four of those – security, housing, poor remuneration and the poor management of the magistrates’ courts.

They want the Chief Justice to act on their concerns about security both at their workplace and homes. They feel vulnerable when they use public transport after work. They say too often they come in contact with individuals whom they would have sent to prison.

They also come in contact with petty criminals in the lower courts.

Magistrates say they are forced by circumstances to seek accommodation in poor neighbourhoods putting themselves at risk of criminal elements.

They also want their salaries reviewed.

The magistrates say all these issues have left the workforce bitterly frustrated and stressed. This has negatively affected their performance.

We agree that the magistrates’ concerns are legit. It is a pity that magistrates, who deliver such crucial services to society, have been reduced to such levels of penury. Their circumstances sound extremely dire.

In our opinion the issue of salaries stands at the core of their grievances. Fix the salaries and you would have solved their problems by half.

This matter should be of urgent concern to the government otherwise the very administration of justice will be compromised.

A creative approach to fix their remuneration structure must therefore be explored.

The magistrates have also complained about what they called the “poor management of the magistrates’ court”.

They complain of discrimination and favouritism with regards to international travel for magistrates, promotions and training opportunities. Those who complain are victimized, they say.

We believe these latter issues they have raised are much easier to address as long as there is the will on the part of the management.

We also note the magistrates’ aggressive tone when speaking about acting Registrar of the High Court, Lesitsi Mokeke.

They have accused Mokeke of “neglecting the lower judiciary” and want him out.

Mokeke, who has been acting for years now, must however be given a proper platform to respond to the allegations lest he faces the same fate as his predecessor Mathato Sekoai.

We find it morally irreprehensible that six years after her forced ouster as registrar Sekoai’s case has still not been finalised. No one appears keen to touch the matter.

It would be a pity were the Chief Justice to allow this matter to go on unresolved. Either way there must be finality on the case. We believe Sekoai must not be allowed to remain in limbo.

Lesotho needs a stable judiciary to ensure Basotho can promptly get justice in the courts when they have been aggrieved.

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