Lawyers blast government

Lawyers blast government

. . . accuse government of plotting to unseat Chief Justice

MASERU- FOUR top lawyers yesterday accused the coalition government of plotting a covert plan to unseat the Chief Justice so as to have a free hand to control the judiciary. In a scathing statement issued yesterday, Attorney Qhalehang Letsika, Advocates Karabo Mohau KC, Zwelakhe Mda KC and Motiea Teele KC said the executive wants to usurp the Judicial Service Commission’s powers.

They accused the executive of trying to appoint judges, which is unconstitutional.
They further argued that it is not the duty of the executive to appoint judges.
They say puisne judges are appointed by the King acting in accordance with the advice of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) which is insulated from any form of external interference.

“The Executive cannot dictate to the JSC which judges and of what nationality it must appoint,” the lawyers say.
The statement from the lawyers said there is nowhere where the law states that the executive has any power to appoint acting judges or to influence the JSC to appoint particular judges of any particular nationality.

It reads that it is apparent from the government’s official statement read on Lesotho Television that “particular judges of foreign extraction have been identified by the executive and will probably be imposed upon the JSC once the Chief Justice has been removed as the statement appears to suggest that her removal is impending”.

The lawyers said it is astounding that the executive should expect the nation to believe that it has no intention of interfering with the outcomes of cases as it alleges. “It is the Chief Justice who should be advising the government on the need for recruitment as she explained in her official opening statement of the High Court in February this year,” the statement reads. “The very fact that the executive appears intent on removing the Chief Justice without following the due process of the law belies the correctness of the assurances given by them,” it reads.

They argued that they are being conscious of their duty to uphold the rule of law by protecting the constitution of Lesotho and other laws of the Kingdom of Lesotho.

The lawyers said they are being mindful of the duty of the government and its constitutional obligation to accord the courts of law such “assistance as the courts may require to enable them to protect their independence, dignity and effectiveness” subject to the constitution and any other law as clearly spelt in the constitution.

They argued that the constitution provides that the courts must be independent and free from interference and subject only to the constitution or any other law in the performance of their functions. They said the tenure of office of appointed judicial officers as guaranteed in the constitution is a deliberate measure to ensure Basotho and aliens alike that their disputes shall be adjudicated upon by judicial officers who dispense justice without fear or favour and that their rights will be safeguarded and protected.

The lawyers argued that Lesotho is a constitutional democracy and that the appointment and removal of judges is provided for in the constitution to guarantee the independence of the judiciary that matches the highest standards recognised internationally. They said there is no provision in the constitution that permits the executive to enter into covert discussions with the Chief Justice who they are seeking to remove.

“The constitution requires that the removal of a serving judge shall be undertaken by a tribunal appointed to investigate the conduct of such a judge and to pronounce on his or her fitness to continue to hold office,” the statement reads. The lawyers said it should not be forgotten that not so long ago, the Minister of Law and Constitutional Affairs using intemperate, derogatory and insulting language against the Chief Justice, alleging that she was corrupt, called on her to resign rather than face impeachment.

Majara Molupe

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