5 February 2019

Lesotho: Acting Chief Justice in Court Drama

ACTING chief justice, 'Maseforo Mahase, was this week involved in heated exchanges with the audience who heckled her over her perceived tardiness in handling the All Basotho Convention's (ABC) Koko-koro Constituency Committee's case against the disqualification of Professor Nqosa Mahao from the party's leadership elections.

The visibly irate Justice Mahase on Tuesday threatened to eject the hecklers from the courtroom and proceed with the case with only the media in attendance.

Yesterday, it was the turn of the Koko-koro committee's lawyer, Advocate Khotso Nthontho, to feel the wrath of the Acting Chief Justice.

This was after Adv Nthontho told Justice Mahase that she had not complied with a directive of the Court of Appeal to have heard the case and delivered judgement by 2pm on Tuesday.

Justice Mahase replied by accusing Adv Nthontho of "personally attacking her" and ignoring the fact that she had "gone the extra mile" by attending to the case at 11am on Tuesday instead of 2pm which had been stipulated by the apex court.

Prof Mahao was nominated by the ABC's Koro-Koro constituency committee to contest the deputy leader's post at the party's elective conference which begins tomorrow but was disqualified by the NEC because he did not meet its criteria of qualification.

The Koro-Koro committee challenged the ABC's NEC decision in the High Court and lost the case on 13 January. It appealed to the Court of Appeal which had since referred the case back to the High Court for adjudication on the merits. The High Court was expected to rule on the appeal on Tuesday but the case spilled into yesterday. The Koro-Koro committee is seeking an order nullifying both the decision by the ABC's NEC to disqualify Prof Mahao as well as its own suspension by the party after it launched its own spirited fight against the professor's disqualification.

When it became clear during proceedings that judgement would not be delivered on Tuesday and Justice Mahase would postpone the case to yesterday, there were murmurs of disapproval from the audience which soon grew into heckling.

But Justice Mahase would have none of it. She accused the crowd of disrespecting the courts and threatened to ban them from attending court sessions.

"This is my courtroom and I am the presiding judge in this matter. Therefore, what I say goes and you cannot talk while I am addressing this court," an irate Justice Mahase said.

"We should keep order in this court and no one does as he or she pleases, even these lawyers do not act as they please. Counsel (Adv Nthontho) if these people came with you, get them into order or I will hold this case in camera (in private). I will only allow lawyers and the media if you (the audience) continue in this fashion. I believe you know what I mean when I say I will hold the proceedings in camera.

"I want to deal with this matter as quickly as possible but it can only become easier when I have read the papers submitted so I can understand what the lawyers are saying.

"I was only served with heads of arguments from both appellants' and the respondents' lawyers while coming into this court therefore did not have time to go through them. I need time to go through them and this court is adjourned to tomorrow (Wednesday) at 9.30am."

Outside the courtroom, some of the people were still livid with the acting chief justice, saying the delay in delivering the verdict could only work against Prof Mahao who was in a race against time to know whether or not he could contest in tomorrow's elections.

The drama continued yesterday and this time Justice Mahase faced off with Adv Nthontho who had complained that Justice Mahase had not complied with a directive of the Court of Appeal to have heard the case and delivered judgement by 2pm on Tuesday.

Adv Nthontho said in view of the court's failure to deliver judgement on Tuesday, he intended to apply to the court to suspend the ABC's elective conference until his clients' case had been finalised.

"I have been instructed by my clients that I should apply for a stay of the ABC elective conference pending the finalisation of this matter," Adv Nthontho said.

"This matter was remitted to this court for it to deal with the merits and it was a directive of the Court of Appeal to have dealt with the matter by 2pm yesterday (Tuesday) but that notice has not been complied with by this court.

"This court fixed timelines as to when the merits of the case would be dealt with and that was at 11am yesterday but that was not done. It was also a directive of this court that we come and address the merits at 2pm yesterday (Tuesday) but this case commenced at 3pm and still the merits were not dealt with."

Adv Nthontho's submissions drew an angry response from Justice Mahase who accused Adv Nthontho of personally attacking her even though she had "gone the extra mile" by attending to the case at 11am on Tuesday instead of 2pm as stipulated by the apex court.

"I was handed a copy of the Appeal Court judgement at 4.20pm on Monday while I was about to knock off but I think I went an extra mile by seeing you (lawyers) at 11am yesterday (Tuesday) instead of the set time of 2pm.

"Do not come to court and argue about things which will not help you achieve anything. You are attacking me personally when it is not my fault that the case did not start at 2pm on Tuesday.

"How do you expect me to move quickly when you keep embargoing me with one paper after another. You just served me with other papers this morning. Do you expect me to sit here like a robot not knowing what is in your papers? This is not how we operate. Actually, this court is adjourned, call me after 20 minutes."

ACJ Mahase left the courtroom at about 10.30am only to return an hour later. Upon her return she ruled that she would hear the court prayers by the applicants as they appeared on the motion paper, meaning that the application to suspend the ABC elective conference would be the last issue to be heard.

"I order that counsel should address me on the merits and prayers of motion as they appear in sequence. I think by so doing I would have abided with the order of the Appeal Court," ACJ Mahase said. She will deliver judgement on the committee's application today.

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