The battle for Iveco

The battle for Iveco

MASERU – POWER struggles in the judiciary could have contributed to the collapse of the Traffic Mobile Court.
So bitter were the divisions that the magistrates’ court launched the mobile court, nicknamed Iveco, without Acting Chief Justice Maseforo Mahase’s approval.

The magistrates’ court allegedly ignored Justice Mahase’s order to stop the mobile court until they have practice rules regulating its operations.
In fact, Justice Mahase was never briefed when the vehicle was sourced and she appears to have washed her hands off the mobile court.

The magistrates’ court also plodded ahead despite her reservations.
The government last week abruptly shut down the court after taxi operators embarked on a strike.
The government said it wants to hear why the taxi operators were so vehemently opposed to the court.

Several government ministers were locked in marathon meetings with taxi operators’ associations.
thepost can however reveal that the mobile court has been the subject of turf wars within the judiciary.
There is also a tiff between the judiciary and the executive over how the court should operate.

The struggles within the judiciary appeared to have started a few weeks before the court was launched.
Justice Mahase did not attend the handover of the vehicle to the judiciary which happened together with the court’s launch.
Advocate ‘Mathato Sekoai, the High Court and Court of Appeal Registrar, was also conspicuously absent at the launch despite being the judiciary’s chief accounting officer.

Justice Mahase initially agreed to attend the ceremony but pulled out at the last minute when she was told it would also include the launch of the mobile court.
The invitation had come from Advocate ‘Matankiso Nthunya, the Chief Magistrate for the Central Region, who appears to have been the brains behind the project.

Advocate Nthunya requested the vehicle through the Road Safety Association, a group including law enforcement agents, government departments and the magistrates’ court.
At the ceremony the Minister of Finance was supposed to hand over the vehicle to the Minister of Transport who would in turn give it to the Minister of Justice.

The Minister of Justice would pass it on to Justice Mahase as the head of the judiciary.
The launch of the court was supposed to be a joint effort of the judiciary and the executive.
A few days before the ceremony Justice Mahase, through Advocate Sekoai, suggested that the launch be postponed until there was clarity on how the court would operate.

Chief Magistrate Nthunya and some government officials however insisted on going ahead because it was too late to postpone.
The ceremony proceeded as planned without Justice Mahase and Advocate Sekoai.

And a few days later the mobile court was on the road prosecuting drivers who bristled at being ordered to pay spot fines.
Delivering the judgements were magistrates whose courts are under the management of both Justice Mahase and Advocate Sekoai.
It wasn’t long before there was public outrage, with taxi operators leading the fight against the court they saw as an existential threat to their businesses.

Some taxi operators asked Advocate Sekoai if the High Court approved the court.
Others threatened to sue the High Court for allegedly unleashing an illegal court on the roads. On July 20 Justice Mahase met the three chief magistrates and Advocate Sekoai to discuss the court’s operations and the public’s complaints.

Manyathela Kolobe (Chief Magistrate South) and Makampong Mokhoro (Chief Magistrate North) accompanied Chief Magistrate Nthunya to the meeting.
What exactly happened in that meeting is a matter of dispute among some of the participants.

Advocate Sekoai says Justice Mahase told the magistrates that “the court was a noble initiative but she wanted clarity on its operations”.
“She wanted to know what was going on and under what law the court was operating,” Advocate Sekoai says.
“She also asked about the court’s jurisdiction and who had commissioned it.”

She says the Acting Chief Justice ordered the magistrates to draft some practice rules for the court while she sought the Attorney General’s legal opinion.
“The agreement was that the court would stop operating until those legal issues were clarified. This was based on the understanding that while the courts are there to deliver justice, they must also follow the law,” Sekoai says.

“The main issue was that this was now a roving court in which issues of jurisdiction arise.”
“We had to clarify how summons are issued if someone disputes the charges. Who issues the summons and how,” she says.
She adds that the magistrates agreed to come up with the rules and report back to Justice Mahase.

The mobile court however did not stop and the magistrates never submitted the practice rules as ordered. Instead the mobile court started operating nationally, netting hundreds of drivers and collecting tens of thousands in fines.
But Chief Magistrate Nthunya says this is not how she recalls the discussion in the meeting.

She says she told Justice Mahase that she approved the mobile court and it was operating under the rules of the Magistrates’ Courts.
“I said it’s operating under the rules of the subordinate courts and therefore did not need any practice rules,” Chief Magistrate Nthunya.
She says the only query during the meeting was whether a junior magistrate can be assigned to the mobile court when it moves to different districts.

“This was a reasonable query because first class magistrates are confined to their jurisdictions and cannot be moving around with the mobile court,” she says, adding that this was “sorted out by assigning magistrates from the area where the mobile court would be operating”.
Chief Magistrate Nthunya says she doesn’t understand the uproar over the mobile court because “it’s not something new”.

“In the Road Safety operations during holidays we always had this kind of mobile court. The only difference is that we were holding the court in a gazebo and now we are using a vehicle. Nothing has changed apart from that the court is not in a vehicle.”
She says on Monday this week she was called to a meeting with some Cabinet ministers to explain the court’s operations.

“I explained that there was nothing controversial about the court. I also explained its motive and benefits to the courts.”
Chief Magistrate Nthunya says she believes that the “so-called dispute over the court is manufactured and a result of what I suspect to be personality issues”.

Manyathela Kolobe, Chief Magistrate South, says after the meeting the magistrates discussed the Acting Chief Justice’s instructions but “we decided the Mobile Traffic Court did not need any new rules”.
Chief Magistrate Kolobe says they never went back to the acting chief justice after the meeting.
He says his only reservation about the court was that court clerks were issuing fines on receipts belonging to another entity.

“I am not convinced it is correct for a court clerk to issue a receipt with the Road Fund’s details. Ideally, court officials issue receipts from the court not any other organisation,” he said.
“But I must say that was not a major issue that could make me hostile to the mobile court. In any case, the money still goes to the Road Fund which is the rightful recipient.”

‘Makampong Mokhoro, Chief Magistrate North, says in principle she was not opposed to the mobile court which wanted it to operate within the confines of the law.
“I just wanted it to operate like a typical court. As far as I am concerned it didn’t look like a typical court,” Chief Magistrate Mokhoro says.
“If it is a court then it should have the police, magistrate and magistrate from a district in which it is stationed at that time. The jurisdiction issues have to be clear”.

She said her other concern was that the mobile court did not seem to be independent because it appeared to be under the direct control of the Road Fund.
“That did not seem right to me because magistrates are supposed to be independent. If the vehicle belongs to the judiciary then it is the judiciary that should control it.”

“My other concern was that they should consolidate all the laws so that people are clear about which sections they are alleged to have violated and the fines. That doesn’t seem to be there at the moment.”
She added: “If this is a court then it should operate like one. I don’t think we need new rules but just that it should adhere to those that govern other courts”.

Advocate Sekoai however insists that the acting chief justice had nothing to do with the mobile court.
“She had nothing to do with it from the start. She was not informed about its operations. The point is that it was not our court,” she says.
“It’s embarrassing to tell people that you don’t know about something that is within your authority but that is precisely what happened. We knew nothing about the mobile court.”

“There were no rules for that court. The acting chief justice ordered that there be rules but that doesn’t appear to have happened. She didn’t approve that court. The vehicle was not handed to us”.

Chief Magistrate Nthunya says the mobile court belonged to the Magistrates’ Court right from the start.
“I am actually disappointed that the court has been suspended,” she says.

Staff Reporter

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