Lesotho: Court of Appeal Suspension 'Shocks' Justice Minister

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The saga surrounding the suspension of the April 2019 session of the Court of Appeal took a new twist this week with the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Mokhele Moletsane refuting claims by the Acting Registrar of the High Court Pontšo Phafoli, that the apex court was suspended due to lack of funds for its operations.

Mr Moletsane said he was "shocked" by the suspension of the apex court session.

Although he did not know why it was suspended, he said there was no way this could have been due to lack of funds as the judiciary had been awarded the full M97 731 217 that it requested from the national budget to fund its operations.

He added that Ms Phafoli and other officers in the judiciary called a press conference last week to announce the suspension without his knowledge.

The Court of Appeal was supposed to begin its April session on Monday 15 April but last Thursday, Ms Phafoli, the Public Relations Officer of the judiciary, 'Mabohlokoa Mapikitla and some staffers held a press conference to announce the suspension of the session due to lack of funds.

"The expectation was that we would have a session in April, however we have decided to put this on hold due to circumstances beyond our control, Ms Phafoli said at the press conference.

"We have tried everything in our power but due to financial constraints, we didn't succeed in having all the logistics in place for the international judges to be here and run their operations smoothly.

"The logistics include travels, lodgings, vehicles and other operational tools and we have failed to fulfil our mandate because of the financial constraints," Ms Phafoli said.

But this week, Mr Moletsane said he was not even aware of the judiciary's press conference last Thursday and he was "shocked" by the claims that there was no money for the apex court.

"The warrants (allowing the apex court and other departments in the judiciary to procure services) were released on 5 April and it is very wrong that another part of judiciary is bold enough to call a press conference to say the Court of Appeal can't operate because of lack of funds.

"It is surprising how this happened. The judiciary requested M97, 7 million. Not even a cent of that amount was cut and it was approved. When a budget is done it is a combined budget for the whole judiciary and not for certain departments. I am trying to establish what could have transpired for the press conference to be called.

"As the Minister of Justice, I am totally against these allegations that have been made because I am the one who proposed the budget and this (suspension) has given a wrong picture of how the judiciary operates.

"I was not even aware of the press conference and I don't understand how it came about and I am shocked. I have to get to the bottom of this because I really don't understand what could have happened. I have the responsibility to furnish the nation with answers as to what is happening because those who have cases to be heard before the said court are anticipating justice.

"There is simply no way that the Court of Appeal should be suspended. That would be undemocratic and I can assure everyone that it will sit as scheduled," Mr Moletsane said.

He said the Court of Appeal needs about M900 000 for its operations this financial year and the entire judiciary had been allocated M300 000 for the first quarter of the 2019/20 financial year.

"However, this does not give anyone the right to call a press conference painting a bad picture that there won't be any sitting whatsoever.

"They ought to have prioritised their activities and utilised the money that was availed to them rather than sending everyone into panic mode by saying the Court of Appeal has been suspended," Mr Moletsane said.

The suspension of the apex court has also riled several sections of society including the Law Society of Lesotho whose members have resolved to withhold services to clients and boycott court sittings to press the government to reconvene the apex court's session.

Last week, the Assistant Registrar of the Court of Appeal, Advocate Mosito Rabotsoa, told the Lesotho Times that he was "shocked" by the suspension and he suspected there was a "hidden agenda" behind the move.

There are widespread allegations that the suspension was a politically motivated decision aimed at ensuring that the new All Basotho Convention's national executive committee (ABC's NEC) does not appeal to the apex court in the event that it loses its High Court dispute with party's old NEC.

The ABC's old and new NECs are locked in a legal battle after the old NEC refused to accept the results of the party's elective conference which ushered in National University of Lesotho (NUL) Vice Chancellor Professor Nqosa Mahao as the deputy leader.

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