2 May 2019

Lesotho: ABC Case Postponed Yet Again

THE case in which three All Basotho Convention (ABC) legislators are seeking the nullification of the results of the party's February 2019 executive committee elections has once again been postponed to 6 May 2019 after lawyers of the defendants failed to show up in court last week.

The Public Relations Officer of the Judiciary, 'Mabohlokoa Mapikitla, recently told the Lesotho Times that the defendants' lawyers boycotted the court session last Tuesday.

"The matter has been postponed to 6 May 2019 after only one side, the legal representatives of the applicants showed up," Ms Mapikitla said.

The defendants' lawyers could not be reached for comment regarding their absence from court as their mobile numbers rang unanswered.

The lawyers' failure to show up came against the backdrop of last Monday's resolution by the Law Society of Lesotho that its members should boycott court sessions until the suspension of the April session of the Court of Appeal is lifted.

The lawyers' boycott was announced by the Law Society's president, Advocate Tekane Maqakachane, at the High Court last Monday. Adv Maqakachane said the boycott would start last Monday and end yesterday.

The High Court Registrar, Pontšo Phafoli, recently told this publication that the suspension of the Court of Appeal session which was due to begin on 15 April, was caused by the shortage of funds for its operations.

However, there are widespread allegations that the suspension was a politically motivated decision aimed at ensuring that the new ABC's national executive committee (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 the outgoing National University of Lesotho Vice Chancellor Professor Nqosa Mahao as the deputy leader.

In February, three ABC legislators Habofanoe Lehana (Khafung constituency), Keketso Sello (Hlotse) and Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe) filed a High Court application seeking the nullification of the ABC's NEC elections. The trio argue that the polls were marred by vote rigging and wants the court to order fresh elections within three months of the finalisation of their application. Prof Mahao has already indicated that he and the rest of the new NEC will appeal to the Court of Appeal should they lose the case.

The ABC, the ABC's old NEC, the Lesotho Council of Non-governmental Organisations (LCN) and the candidates in the ABC polls are cited as the first to 44threspondents in the lawsuit. The LCN are cited in their capacity as the entity that ran the polls on behalf of the ABC and subsequently announced the new NEC line-up.

Sources within the ABC said the decision to suspend the April session of the Court of Appeal was done to ensure that the new NEC does not take its case to the apex court.

Adv Maqakachane said in resolving to withhold services from clients and boycott court proceedings, the lawyers had no political motives and they had only acted out of concern that the closure of the Court of Appeal paralysed the justice system.

His sentiments were echoed by the deputy president of Law Society, Adv Lehlohonolo Matee. Adv Matee is the lawyer of some of the defendants in the ABC case.

He said that the lawyers "do not belong to any faction of the ABC but want to see the judiciary functioning at the full 360 degrees".

"Members (of the Law Society) have reached a harsh decision to boycott all legal representation from 16 to 24 April (yesterday). We do not want to deny our clients justice but this is the harsh decision we had to take to fight for a complete circle of justice," Adv Matee said.

The ABC case has been postponed on several occasions since it was filed on 11 February. It was first postponed on 13 February when Justice Mahase granted an interim order barring the newly elected ABC's NEC from assuming the office until the main application seeking the nullification of their election is finalised.

On 22 February, Justice Mahase again postponed the case to 6 March 2019 to give herself time to go through the affidavit from the applicants' lawyer, Advocate Rapapa Sepiriti, which she said she only received the previous day.

However, on that day the applicants and defendants made a plea to settle out of court. Justice Mahase then issued an order giving the two NEC factions up to 19 March to resolve their differences failing which they would have to return to court on 20 March.

The two factions returned to court on 20 March after the talks collapsed but Justice Mahase postponed the matter to 25 March 2019 after one of the defendants' lawyers', Adv Ranale Thoahlane, called in sick.

On 25 March, Justice Mahase also called in sick and postponed the matter to 2 April 2019. On that date she postponed the matter to 11 April only to further postpone it to 16 April 2019 and eventually to 6 May 2019.

On 16 April, respondents' lawyers said they were frustrated by the numerous postponements and were tired of coming to court.

One of the lawyers, Adv Patsa Mohapi, appealed to Justice Mahase to deliver judgement on the basis of the heads of argument they filed before her and not hear arguments by the petitioners and defendants' lawyers.

"My lady, since you have read our heads of argument which we filed, we humbly request the court to look at our papers and make a ruling based on them.

"This is a simple case and the applicants do not stand to suffer any prejudice. We are tired of coming here today, tomorrow or next month. I think you are also tired of this matter," Adv Mohapi said.

Fellow defendants' lawyer, Advocate "Mabatṧoeneng Hlaele, expressed similar sentiments saying, "our heads of argument were filed on 21 February and there is nothing which will be argued outside what we have already filed before this court".

"This case is draining so may you please make a ruling based on our heads of argument," Adv Hlaele added.

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