Knives out for High Court registrar

Knives out for High Court registrar

MASERU – MAGISTRATES want the acting Registrar of the High Court and Court of Appeal, Lesitsi Mokeke, to step down for allegedly neglecting lower courts while pampering officers close to him with favours.

In a scathing letter to Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara, the Judicial Officers Association of Lesotho (Joale), which represent magistrates, says Mokeke has shown “total disregard and neglect” of their plight.

In one incident, the letter says, Mokeke ignored the magistrates’ request for government sponsored cellphones. They say instead Mokeke “shockingly” got state-funded mobile phones for deputy registrars.

“Because that was not to be funded through his private purse, we consider he deliberately failed us, wether out of malice or through incompetence,” says the letter signed by Joale secretary, Magistrate Masopha Kao.

The letter was copied to the government secretary and the Law Society of Lesotho. The three chief magistrates, who are also the subject of Joale’s complaints, have also received the letter.

The association says the decision to ask Mokeke to step down is unanimous and final, and the members are prepared to submit a petition to the chief justice “if need be”.

The magistrates also accuse Mokeke of allegedly bungling a case in which High Court interpreters and recorders filed an application to block a new structure in the judiciary. What angered the magistrates is that Mokeke did not oppose the application despite being cited in his capacity as the chief accounting officer of the judiciary.

This, they say, was surprising because Mokeke did not have any direct or substantial interest in the case apart from being the chief accounting officer.

They allege that this is because in 2016 Mokeke had used the same structure he was now allowing to be set aside to elevate himself “in terms of remuneration and other benefits”.

Their concern is that Mokeke failed to consult those who were to be affected by his decision to let the case proceed unopposed. They say to add salt to the wound Mokeke later cut a deal with the applicants’ lawyers to turn the application into a court order that effectively set aside the new structure.

“This again he did without consulting anyone affected by the structure and to their prejudice.”

“Our members consider that a very serious misconduct on his part.”

The magistrates are also up in arms against chief magistrates whom they accuse of undermining their independence by interfering with their decisions.

They cite incidences where a chief magistrate changed a magistrate’s ruling without consulting him. This, they claim, happens when police officers and lawyers complain about magistrates’ decisions.

They allege that sometimes the variation is done through a phone call and “this has opened gates for some police officers to disrespect magistrates”.

“In a recent incident, a police officer told a magistrate point blank that he would release a motor vehicle contrary to her order.”

“To add to this unfortunate behaviour of police officers, Chief Magistrates enjoy inciting police officers to undermine the authority of magistrates. They tell them (police officers) that certain magistrates are incompetent and do not read.”

Apart from their gripe with the Mokeke and chief magistrates the magistrates also want the chief justice to deal with their security concerns. They say there is no security for the “Magistracy as an institution and individual magistrates”.

They say although there has been an increase in court orderlies in some premises “the situation is different in other courts which only have unarmed orderlies”.

The magistrates say their odd working hours make them more vulnerable.

“Because of our meagre salaries a lot of us have no private vehicles and are reliant on public transport. Magistrates occasionally find themselves in taxis driven by the very people they, at some point, sent to prison.”

This, they add, could “culminate into deadly consequences”.

“Not so long ago, a magistrate’s home was attacked at night, by gunmen.”

They claim that although authorities have been alerted to such incidents nothing has changed.

“We plead with your Ladyship therefore, to seriously address this issue because at the end of the day this negatively impacts on our discharge of duties. Fear is the enemy of justice.”

In addition to the issue of security the Joale is also concerned that nothing has been done to provide accommodation for magistrates, especially those based in Maseru.

The association says in Maseru Magistrates are forced to rent houses in the heart of villages, “where some cheap accommodation, befitting of their wallets, is available”.

“Most of the time at these places Magistrates find themselves renting flats with their daily customers (accused persons some of whose cases are still pending in our courts)”. “Needless to mention, this compromises their security, independence and integrity as judicial officers.”

Salaries

The magistrates say they are aware that the chief justice understands that their remuneration is “far less than the value of the significant role” they play in society.

They attribute this to the fact that their salaries are still determined under the terms of the Public Service structures.

They say some of them are being denied benefits they are entitled to.

Poor management

Joale say the Magistrates Court are badly managed. The association says “discrimination is rife” in international travel and attendance of workshops.

It says while some magistrates rarely get these opportunities others get them at “an alarming rate”. Nomination for promotions is not done on merit and bosses use the transfers to get rid of magistrates they consider hostile, the association alleges.

Lack of resources

Joale accuses chief magistrates of putting their interests ahead of those of magistrates. “It should be noted that we sometimes have do without some essential resources, allegedly because the Magistracy has no funds”. “Surprisingly, at the same time our Chief Magistrates would be spending government funds on what would properly be referred to as luxury.”  The association alleges that a few years ago some chief magistrates spent about M100 000 to refurbish their office at a time when magistrates had to use dilapidated buildings and broken furniture.

Victimisation

The association says the management victimises those who hold different views. It says this usually takes the form of “unwarranted” transfers.

Staff Reporter

 

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