16 February 2018

Lesotho: As the Court Pleases

On 9 December 2017 I formed part of a delegation of concerned Basotho men and women who presented a petition to the minister of justice. The petition was received by the Minister of Law and Constitutional affairs Lebohang Hlaele.

It is not my call today to discuss at length the petition itself but rather I will be looking into the unintended fallout from that well intentioned initiative. For the record, the petition was intended to register our frustration with the long delayed swearing - in of Kananelo Mosito as the president of the Court of Appeal and other related matters.

My position and that of my colleagues in this exercise was to focus on the institution of the judiciary as opposed to the incumbents in any given position that they may be occupying at any one time. It is in this vein that we maintain that the institution of the judiciary is sacrosanct. Incumbents on the other hand will always come and go leaving the institution to survive long after their tenure has run its course.

Our interest therefore goes far beyond personalities and has as its major concern the preservation of the integrity of the courts as an essential pillar of our system of governance. Regrettably in the aftermath of the presentation of that petition there have been a lot of dissenting voices that have mauled this noble agenda and have forcibly mutated it into a campaign to vilify the entire judiciary. Nothing could be more out of sync with what we stand for.

We have been vilified and stigmatised as being unprofessional for taking the responsibility of being at the forefront of the drive to criticise the judiciary. And we condemn in the strongest possible terms any attempt to equate the articulation of legitimate concerns with bringing the judiciary into disrepute.

We owe it to everyone to put the record straight. We have no agenda and will never have any agenda to vilify anyone. Ours was merely to have our voices heard over the many disturbing happenings in and around the judiciary. The shabby treatment meted to Justice Mosito is the single biggest scandal that has ever engulfed the judiciary in this country. Incidental thereto were other matters such as the M27, 000.00 rental fiasco - if you like - that nobody up to now has ever refuted.

We will not now or ever keep quiet in the face of issues which we believe are of national concern because whenever the integrity of the courts are called into question we all become victims.

It is therefore unhelpful if we reduce efforts to cleanse the judiciary to simplistically conjure up perceptions that we do so with ill motives.

When you read this article, the judgment in the Mosito matter will hopefully have been handed down. Which ever way it goes we will be the first to abide by it because we are honour bound to do so. But that does not mean that we will be barred from voicing our views about that judgment simply because it has been delivered by a court of law. The courts of law are not above criticism. Judges are not saints. They are as human as the rest of us and to err is human. And to criticise errors is noble.

As for the misplaced angle that the courts should not be censured because this brings into question their integrity my only answer is that the courts are funded with taxpayers' money and the courts must at the end of the day account for what they do to the man in the street.

Constructive criticism is what will ensure that we maintain the necessary etiquette that our institutions so richly deserve. Because it is only that dignity and honour that holds our courts together. The courts must ensure that they do not hog the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

We will not change course because we are on the right track and all men of goodwill will bear us out that We are not just an ill-wind out to rubbish the status quo.To Madam Chief Justice and the other judges of the high court we can only say with a proud voice, "As the court pleases."


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