Judge ‘gags’ judicial officers

Judge ‘gags’ judicial officers

MASERU – THE Judicial Officers Association of Lesotho (JOALE) says Acting Chief Justice ’Maseforo Mahase has gagged them, ordering association members to seek her authorisation before speaking to the media.
As a result, JOALE secretary-general magistrate Masupha Kao called off a press conference the association intended to hold on Tuesday. Kao said going ahead with the press conference would be tantamount to defying the Chief Justice.
Kao refused to divulge the agenda of the cancelled press conference, asserting that this would require authorisation from Chief Justice Mahase.

This comes after JOALE members embarked on a go-slow, and barely a week after the association announced its intention to go on a full-blown strike.
JOALE is a non-governmental association registered under the Societies Act. In terms of its constitution, the association does not take its mandate from the government.
The association, whose main objective is to represent the interests of all judicial officers, is also not under the control of the judiciary, whose head is the Chief Justice.

Kao told surprised journalists that he was cancelling the press conference after receiving Chief Justice Mahase’s order through the High Court registrar Pontšo Phafoli shortly before the event could be held.
“The Honourable Acting Chief Justice reasoned that she is asked questions by the government and in most cases she does not have answers,” Kao said.
“She said some of the questions emanate from what was said to the media without her authorisation and because of this no magistrate will talk to the media without her approval,” he said.
“This means we will henceforth not answer any questions from the media without getting the Chief Justice’s approval.”

When some journalists pointed out that JOALE is not subject to the control of the Chief Justice, Kao said association members are answerable to the Chief Justice.
He, however, said JOALE will meet to discuss Chief Justice Mahase’s order.
Three weeks ago, the association wrote to Chief Justice Mahase informing her of its members’ intention to go on strike.

In the strongly-worded letter, JOALE did not tell Chief Justice Mahase when the planned strike would start.
Their complaint is that the judiciary’s functional and institutional independence is being undermined despite a clear decision of the Constitutional Court in 2006 ordering the executive to stay away from the judiciary.
JOALE’s letter states that since Lesotho’s independence from the British in 1966 “magistrates have always been considered civil servants in clear disregard of constitutional provisions pointing contrary”.
It was after the Constitutional Court case in which JOALE challenged the then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s directive to shift them to be under district administrators that the court straightened that unconstitutional administrative set up.

“However, certain unconstitutional administrative set ups, some of which fundamentally erode judicial independence, are even today still in place thereby threatening the very existence of magistrates’ courts,” the letter to Justice Mahase reads.
“As things stand, magistrates’ remuneration and other financial benefits are determined by the executive arm of government through its Minister of Public Service,” JOALE argues.
“It has always been JOALE’s considered view that this is not only unconstitutional but a mockery of the Kingdom’s constitution and erosion of the same independence afforded to courts by the constitution.”
JOALE’s letter to Justice Mahase says, in regard to financial independence, a year ago it engaged the Justice Minister about salaries which it described as “a joke and an insult given their responsibilities”.

Consultations were made, committees formed and JOALE was told that “the last step was for cabinet to endorse the resultant product”.
After that the minister allegedly dodged JOALE officials over the matter.
The minister only responded to the official letter of complaint through local radio, saying he would no longer deal with magistrates’ “almost resolved concerns” with JOALE but would instead deal with the matters only through the Chief Justice.
“JOALE should be on record saying that Your Ladyship’s predecessors are the ones who, in no unequivocal terms, showed that they do not in any way hold purse,” the letter reads.
JOALE says it became clear that “anything that has financial implication should be taken straight to the executive arm of government by the JOALE executive”.

Itumeleng Khoete


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