CHIEF Justice Nthomeng Majara on Monday said judges should administer justice without fear or favour in order to earn the respect of the public.
The chief justice made the remark while delivering the keynote address at the official opening of the High Court for the year 2016.
“On our part as the judiciary, may I remind us all that we have the responsibility not only to dispense justice to all persons alike without fear or favour, but must be seen to be doing so.
“We should, thus, epitomise professionalism, integrity and impartiality at all times.
“Otherwise, competence and efficiency will remain but an empty shell if we can ever allow ourselves to be seen or perceived as ‘politicians masquerading as judges behind these judicial cloaks’ as we were duly cautioned by His Excellency President Robert Mugabe in his keynote address at the SADC Chief Justices’ Forum in Victoria Falls in September last year,” she said.
President Mugabe’s speech in question was read on his behalf by Vice-President Emerson Mnangagwa, and read in part: “Judicial independence, as a concept, is noble when used appropriately to uphold the separation of powers.
“It is, however, sometimes abused by some judicial officers to mystify and stem criticism of untenable court decisions.
“We respect judicial independence, appropriately raised, but deplore judicial officers who are in essence politicians hiding behind the cloak of judicial independence to mask their political inclinations.”
According to Chief Justice Majara, the issue of impartiality could, therefore, not be overemphasized.
“We must therefore, always guard against contributing in any way, by word or by deed, to anarchy and lawlessness, as their unsavoury consequences would not spare anyone,” she said.
The judge also called on the government and other state organs to observe the rule of law by complying with court orders and judgments.
“I feel duty-bound to remind all of us about the importance of the rule of law, starting with the government, ministries, departments and all organs of the state, as well as every citizen of this country,” Justice Majara said.
“Everyone is bound to observe, protect and promote the rule of law.
“This entails ensuring that the courts function in a free, safe and secure environment, free of fear, force or threat of force, intimidation or any form of undue influence, at all times.
“It also calls for utmost respect of and compliance with court orders and judgments as their proper discharge is one of the main ingredients of this sacrosanct rule in any constitutional democracy.”
According to the Chief Justice, respect of the law is not a matter of choice or convenience but a vital constitutional obligation.
“Disrespect or defiance of court orders tarnishes the image and authority of the courts and stymies the execution of their constitutional mandate as well as cast the country in bad light,” she said.
It was because of these reasons that Chief Justice Majara said she was making her “impassioned plea to us all, lest we unwittingly find ourselves having fallen deep into the abyss and chasm of lawlessness and anarchy which would certainly result in unsavoury and dire consequences to this small but blessed nation.”
The judge further said it was “a well-known fact that where there is utmost respect for the rule of law, justice, peace and stability reign supreme”.
She added: “Where there is peace and stability, investor-confidence abounds, which in turn, helps the country’s economy to grow, thus creating opportunities for employment, reducing poverty and crime as well as other social ills.”
Justice Majara also raised concern over the conduct of some lawyers.
“To the learned friends, members of the bar and sidebar, laxity in the observance of court rules in the Supreme Courts has lately been a matter of great concern.
“Strict observance of the rules always produces good results in that justice is expedited,” she added.
The top judge also urged government to consider increasing the number of judges for the expeditious administration of justice.
The High Court currently has 12 judges, inclusive of the Chief Justice.
“Indeed, it is worthy to note that with more or less a similar population as Lesotho, the Botswana High Court has three times the number of judges in comparison, despite research having revealed that Batswana are not as litigious as our people.
“It is therefore our fervent hope that the government will heed our clarion call to create more positions for judges and judicial officers in all the courts so that we can efficiently discharge our constitutional mandate,” she said.