17 April 2019

Lesotho: Court of Appeal Suspended

THE Court of Appeal session which was scheduled to run from 15 to 25 April 2019 will no longer take place due to the government's failure to provide funds to cater for its expenses.

This was said by the Assistant Registrar of the Court of Appeal, Advocate Mosito Rabotsoa, in an interview with the Lesotho Times yesterday.

Adv Rabotsoa said that all the necessary preparations had been made for the apex court's April session but he was "shocked" by the government decision to suspend the session because the Court of Appeal always operated on credit and paid its creditors afterwards. He said there could be a hidden agenda behind the suspension of the April session.

"It is an established practice that the Court of Appeal has its first session in April every year and this happens when the government has just announced the national budget even when the actual allocations have not been made to the relevant ministries and government departments.

"That being the case, we normally get services on credit from providers who then submit claims for us to process their payments when we have received our allocation from the government. However, we were this week told by the Registrar of the High Court (Pontšo Phafoli) that we should suspend the April session because there are no funds and we should not get services on credit.

"I had already prepared everything for the session. I was shocked by the decision because it is not like we operate on a cash-on-delivery basis and it is not like the executive did not know that there was a session scheduled for April. I suspect that there is a hidden agenda behind the suspension of this session although I do not know what it is. It does not make sense that a warrant (to allow the court to get services on credit) has not been issued when everybody knew about this session," Adv Rabotsoa said.

The Court of Appeal normally has foreign judges sitting alongside its president, Dr Kananelo Mosito. Adv Rabotsoa said four foreign judges had been recruited for the April session and the budget was meant to cover their living expenses as well as operational costs of the session.

"The budget normally covers the five judges' sitting allowances, flights and accommodation for the foreign judges, rented cars, petrol and the court's operating expenses which include stationery and water which we all get on credit," Adv Rabotsoa said.

The Court of Appeal resumed its sittings in November 2018 after almost two years of absence due to long-drawn legal battles over who should be the court's president.

Justice Mosito, who had been re-appointed to the post on 1 August 2017, was finally sworn-in in November 2018 after a Court of Appeal ruling, a month earlier, which nullified a February 2018 Constitutional Court ruling which had set aside his re-appointment.

The apex court has had one session in January this year during which it heard 32 cases in an attempt to reduce the backlog which had accumulated over the last two years.

Adv Rabotsoa said the suspension of the April session would increase the backlog of cases on the Court of Appeal register.

"We already have a huge backlog and the suspension of the April session means that things will only get worse. The most worrying factor is that of people who have been sentenced to death and are languishing in prison because they cannot appeal due to dysfunctionality of the Court of Appeal. They remain in custody not knowing whether or not they will be executed any minute.

"We do not know how long this suspension will last but this means that the judicial system is inhumane to the people who seek justice from the courts of law," Adv Rabotsoa said.

One of the cases that was expected to have been heard this April is that of the Ministry of Small Businesses, Cooperatives and Marketing which wants to appeal the High Court's 3 April 2019 ruling outlawing the controversial wool and mohair regulations of 2018.

Last Thursday the High Court outlawed the Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing) (Amendment) Regulations which prohibit farmers from selling their wool and mohair in South Africa or anywhere else outside Lesotho.

Another case that could potentially be referred to the apex court is that of the power struggle in the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC). Three ABC legislators Habofanoe Lehana, Keketso Sello and Mohapi Mohapinyane have challenged the outcome of the party's 1 and 2 February elective conference which ushered in Professor Nqosa Mahao as the deputy leader and several others into the party's national executive committee (NEC). Prof Mahao has indicated that he will appeal to the Court of Appeal should the trio's High Court application succeed.

Judge Mosito has already attracted the ire of some in the ABC after he nullified Acting Chief Justice Mahase's order prohibiting Prof Mahao from standing for the governing party's deputy leader's post. Judge Mosito's ruling paved the way for Prof Mahao to contest and win the coveted post beating his main challenger Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro.

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