MASERU — Three prominent regional judges are expected to meet Prime Minister Thomas Thabane today on a fact-finding mission meant to find a solution to the crisis in the judiciary.
The judges who were sent by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) arrived in Lesotho on Sunday.
The team was supposed to meet Thabane yesterday morning but the meeting was cancelled because the prime minister had to address a press conference on the coalition government.
The meeting is now expected to take place today although the time is yet to be decided.
The team is headed by Justice Sandile Ngcobo, South Africa’s former chief justice.
Other members of the team are Justice Augustino Ramadhani, former chief justice of Tanzania and Justice Julian Nganunu who is the former chief justice of Botswana.
The team is expected to conclude its mission today after having met several stakeholders.
The ICJ said “the mission arises out of concerns that the reported dispute between the Office of the Chief Justice and the President of the Court of Appeal is undermining the integrity of the judiciary and access to justice”.
“We have been prompted to undertake this intervention following the failure of the January 2013 session of the Court of Appeal,” said Arnold Tsunga, Director of the African programme of the ICJ.
Tsunga said it has become “clear that the reported dispute between the two highest judicial offices in the land is undermining access to court by litigants and therefore subverting justice”.
Although the fight between Justice Mahapela Lehohla and Justice Michael Ramodibedi has been raging for the past few years, it is the recent spate that has caught the attention of international jurists.
In January Justice Ramodibedi was forced to cancel a special session of the Court of Appeal after Justice Lehohla refused to allow High Court Judges to hear cases in the apex court.
Justice Ramodibedi had requested that some High Court judges be allowed to hear appeals because judges in the Court of Appeal, who are all South African, had said they are on holiday.
When Justice Lehohla refused to release the judges Justice Ramodibedi turned to two acting judges, Kananelo Mosito and Motiea Teele.
But they too were ordered by the chief justice not to hear cases in the Court of Appeal, forcing Justice Ramodibedi to cancel the session.
That left the litigants in the six cases that were set to be heard during the session stranded.
Teele immediately resigned, saying he did not want to be dragged into the dispute between the country’s two most senior judges.
The ICJ statement said “the mission aims to gather information from key stakeholders concerning the nature of the crisis in order to make educated and concrete recommendations on the possible solutions that could assists to resolve the problem”.
The three judges met Justice Lehohla in a meeting that reportedly lasted over three hours earlier this week.
They also met the president of the Law Society of Lesotho, Monaheng Rasekoai, and the president of the Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights Zwelakhe Mda.
They also met some High Court judges, civil society leaders, MPs and several newspaper editors.
After the mission the team will compile a report that the ICJ will give to the government of Lesotho.
The Law Society has already described the fight between the two judges as a “constitutional crisis” and has called on Thabane to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate the crisis in the judiciary.
The Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights has weighed in with a call for the removal of the Chief Justice, describing him as being at the root of the problems in the judiciary.
The government is yet to take a position on the matter although there are unconfirmed reports that the coalition parties cannot agree on how to deal with the problem.
In the meantime pressure is mounting on the government to deal with the matter.
At a press conference yesterday the coalition government did not clearly state how and when it was going to deal with the problem.
Thabane said issues pertaining to the judiciary are huge and complex but the coalition is working on the “issues in collaboration with the judges”.
“Soon we will announce the resolution reached and I can assure you that very soon there will be a solution,” Thabane said.
Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing said “judicial issues are very important and the government is dealing with them sensitively”.
“The government will adhere to the constitution when dealing with the problems to avoid being accused of political interference with the independence of the judiciary,” he said.
“We are definitely working on the issue with the dignity it deserves,” he added.
The ICJ is an international human rights non-governmental organisation that is active in promoting human rights and the rule of law, whether at the international level, regionally and domestically.
Justice Ramadhani, 68, studied law in Tanzania and the United Kingdom.
He served as the chief justice of Zanzibar for nine years before he was appointed a judge on Tanzania’s Court of Appeal.
He then served as Tanzania’s chief justice from 2007 to 2010. Since 2010 he has been a judge of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, based in Tanzania.
Justice Nganunu, 72, served as the chief justice of Botswana for 14 years.
Before that appointment he had been a judge for six years.
Prior to that, he had served as a senior civil servant for 10 years.
From 1976 to 1979 he was in private practice.
Justice Ngcobo, 60, served as the chief justice of South Africa from 2009 to 2011.
His career was interrupted when he was detained for one year after the 1976 student uprising in South Africa.
He has worked as a judge of the Labour Court, the Supreme Court, Cape of Good Hope Provincial Division and the Amnesty Committee of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
He is currently a judge on the Supreme Court of Namibia.