Cash crunch blamed for courts backlog

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MASERU – Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla has blamed the courts’ failure to reduce the backlog of criminal cases on the establishment of a new unit to serve subpoenas and summonses.

The unit was set up last year and was supposed to take over the police’s role of issuing subpoenas and summonses on witnesses for criminal cases.

The unit worked well for a few months before it collapsed because there was no money to pay for its services.

Soon cases were being postponed because witnesses had not been summoned to court.

And the backlog of criminal cases which has been mounting since 1990 increased.

Speaking at the official opening of the High Court on Tuesday, Justice Lehohla said although the unit started well its operations had been hampered by lack of resources.

“Service of criminal process is one of the prime duties of police. However during the period under review a sudden development occurred resulting in the stalling of criminal trials both in the subordinate courts and the High Court,” Justice Lehohla said.

“It appears that with good intentions but without consultation with my office an enthusiastic unit for tackling back-log by being entrusted with service of criminal process for a handsome pay was formed. It went about its task on all cylinders but in no time went out of steam.

“The reason was that money had got depleted and no process was served, no witnesses were summoned by way of subpoena to come to court,” he said.

Justice Lehohla said the dates allocated for cases have been a waste of time as witnesses did not attend the proceedings because of non-service of the criminal process.

Justice Lehohla said the court process is better served if the responsibility of issuing subpoenas and summonses is left to the police.

 “Ordinarily service by normal manner by police at worst revolves around 60 percent as compared to 0.00 percent by the task unit.

“I raise this because I have been reliably informed that the task unit service is going to be resuscitated. My question is: What hope of sustainability is this based on?” he asked.

Lehohla revealed that during his inspection of some local and central courts last year he learnt about rampant corruption amongst court messengers.

Another problem, he said, relates to lack of funds for court messengers to perform their duties.

“There were several other matters raised as of concern but the gravest among them in my view consisted in messengers of court being put under the necessity to use their own monies for performing the court’s duties.

Justice Lehohla said the Matsieng central court told him that her court was finding itself stuck with having to apply archaic laws some of which do harm than good by frustrating the administration of justice.

“As an example she referred to a seduction case where a 45-year-old bachelor instead of facing the consequences of his mischievous acts hides behind his 80-year-old mother because the law says as long as he is not married he remains a minor,” he said.

Justice Lehohla said there is also need to revise the penalty laws.

“Way back in the 1950s an ox cost £17 which according to the rates then was equal to M34.

“But today an ox costs upwards of M3 000. So a penalty of £10 in those days could be fair trade off with six months imprisonment. Today a man sentenced to six months or to pay an option of M20 fine would pay with a smile and go back to commit the same offence,” Justice Lehohla said.

Justice Lehohla also revealed that South African judge Justice John Musi, who was hired last year to deal with the MKM case, is working for free.

Justice Musi was hired last year after High Court judges recused themselves from a case in which the Central Bank of Lesotho is seeking to liquidate the troubled MKM.

Justice Lehohla said Justice Musi does not get any payment from the Lesotho government’s coffers for services he renders.

He also said Justice Musi would be available for other cases.

“Mr Justice Musi’s appointment in this Kingdom while at once serving as a sitting judge in South Africa was facilitated by the existence and adoption of a
Memorandum of Understanding signed by the respective ministers of justice for the two countries courtesy of His Excellency President (Jacob) Zuma’s first state visit to this country on 12th September 2010.”

“Significant about this MOU is the fact that it incurs no financial implications save those pertaining to accommodation and transport – a welcome relief for Lesotho whose many good goals are rendered illusive by severe financial constraints,” Justice Lehohla said.

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