Judges: the new arena in fight for justice

Judges: the new arena in fight for justice

MASERU – THE question of who is appointed as a judge to hear your case has become the new boxing arena in the fight for justice in Lesotho. And the punches having been coming thick and fast as the various players seek to deliver the sucker punch in the fight for political supremacy. A question of whether a case should be heard by a local or foreign judge is not as simple as it might appear.

In the eyes of the prosecution or the Attorney General’s office, a case might appear highly politicised and so requires judges who in the eyes of the public, will not have any interest in local politics. But not everyone will buy that explanation. Take for instance, the case of several soldiers who have been charged with attempted murder and murder. The soldiers, through their lawyer, Advocate Motiea Teele KC, said they were vehemently opposed to the bringing in of foreign judges to hear their case.

Teele said this in a matter in which the former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) boss Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli and other officers are charged with the murder of police’s Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko. They are also charged with a litany of attempted murders after they allegedly bombed two homes in Moshoeshoe II, where Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s then girlfriend Liabiloe Ramoholi stayed. Her neighbour ’Mamoletsane Moletsane’s house was also bombed during the same attack in January 2012.

Sub Inspector Ramahloko was killed after the army stormed the police headquarters in Maseru a day after Thabane had fired Kamoli as army boss. Kamoli and several other officers are now in jail awaiting their trial. Advocate Teele argues his clients do not want any foreign judges to hear the cases because the local ones “are competent enough to hear the matter”. That position has received applause from opposition parties who see foreign judges as busybodies in Lesotho’s internal affairs.

Seven opposition parties yesterday expressed their discontent that the prosecution wants the cases to be heard by foreign judges. However, about seven months ago the now self-exiled leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Mothetjoa Metsing, using the services of Advocate Teele, argued that he did not want local judges to hear his case. Metsing, who was battling a case in which he challenged the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO)’s powers to obtain information on his bank accounts without his consent, felt that he was being persecuted.

Metsing minced no words when he said he did not trust local judges because they could have an interest in the matter. Metsing wanted Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara and Justice Tšeliso Monaphathi to recuse themselves from his case but he did not have any qualms with Justice John Musi, who is a South African. In the same vein, the family of slain army boss Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao also said they did not want local judges to hear their son’s case. Their reasoning was similar to Metsing’s.

The resistance towards local judges could be a reflection of the extent of mistrust that Basotho have towards the judiciary. The general perception is that local judges are not neutral arbiters in the political disputes in Lesotho. They believe the Lesotho bench has been “captured” by politicians and they don’t want to see any judge anywhere near their cases.

Speaking at an LCD press conference yesterday, Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader, Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, said “foreign prosecutors should be brought in to see if indeed there is any case against these men before judges can be called to hear it”. The statement shows that Rakuoane, who is an experienced lawyer himself, believes that the cases are politically motivated.

Tokase Mphutlane

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