Court ruling shocks Law Society

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MASERU — The Law Society of Lesotho says it is surprised the High Court has dismissed its application to have the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Leaba Thetsane stripped of the title of King’s Counsel (KC) bestowed on him by the king last year.

The society said it was “strange” that the court had dismissed the application “without referring the matter for oral evidence”.

The Law Society had challenged the decision to award the title of the King’s Counsel to Thetsane arguing that he had not been admitted as an advocate and therefore did not qualify to receive that honour.

But last Friday High Court Judge Hein Grosskopf dismissed the application on account that the Law Society had not proven that there was indeed a dispute of fact on whether Thetsane was admitted as an advocate or not.

This week, Law Society president, Zwelakhe Mda, described Justice Grosskopf’s ruling as “strange”.

“We are surprised when the court says there are no disputes of fact, we still maintain that the DPP was never admitted as an advocate,” Mda said in an interview with the Lesotho Times.

A King’s Counsel is a title prescribed in the Law Society Act.

A King’s Counsel in Lesotho in equivalent to a senior counsel in South Africa and a Queen’s Counsel in the United Kingdom.

A lawyer is recommended for the award by the Chief Justice to the king.

The title is bestowed on a lawyer based on his experience and achievement in the development of the legal profession in Lesotho.

In its application the society had argued that Thetsane had not rendered “distinguished service in the practice of law in Lesotho” to deserve the title.

It said the conferment should be set aside until Thetsane had proven that he was indeed admitted as an advocate under the laws of Lesotho.

The society argued that the king “must have acted on the basis of wrong information” when he conferred the title on Thetsane.

“Our contention is that there is a genuine dispute of fact and we request that the matter be referred to oral evidence,” said the society in the application.

However, in his ruling Justice Grosskopf said the “bare denial” that Thetsane was admitted as an advocate “was insufficient to create a real dispute of fact” in the matter.

The judge said the Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla, who was the second respondent in the matter because he had recommended Thetsane for the honour, had testified that Thetsane was indeed admitted as an advocate.

He said Thetsane too had told the court that he had been admitted as an advocate.

“No possible reason has been suggested why they would lie under oath in this connection,” Justice Grosskopf said.

“Against this direct evidence the Law Society only raised a number of circumstantial factors which in my view do not create a real or genuine dispute.”

Mda however insists that the society’s application had merit and should have been referred for oral evidence.

He said Thetsane had given his date of admission (as an advocate) as October 6, 1986 but according to the Law Society’s records “this could not be so because that date was a tree-planting day holiday” and no advocates are admitted during holidays.

“We are denying that date of admission but they say that was a mistake without giving a date of admission. That to us constitutes a very serious dispute of fact,” Mda said.

“We are still studying the judgment. We will decide what course of action to take but there are issues that surprise us in this judgment.”

He said although the society does not make recommendations for lawyers who should receive the title it still had a role to “protect the integrity of the judiciary as the constitutional custodians of the practice of law in Lesotho”.

Mda said “the mere fact that there is a dispute of law should have been enough for the judge to refer the matter for oral evidence”.

After the judgment on Friday, a jubilant Thetsane said he felt insulted that his integrity had been questioned.

“I completely felt insulted,” Thetsane told the Lesotho Times soon after the ruling.

“I am a trained lawyer not a pseudo-legal practitioner. I have 25 years of uninterrupted service — 10 of them as a Director of Public Prosecutions,” Thetsane said.

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