SENIOR High Court judge Justice Semapo Peete has attributed the poor administration of justice in Lesotho to incompetent support staff.
Justice Peete was addressing High Court Assessors during their maiden induction training held in Maseru this week. The two-day workshop started on Tuesday and was being facilitated by Justices Tšeliso Monaphathi, Molefi Makara and Peete.
Assessors advise judges analyse facts during criminal proceedings, as well as the appropriate sentence.
Justice Peete told the Assessors that the unnecessary postponement of criminal cases in the High Court was largely the result of inept complementary staff.
“Sometimes, a case has to be postponed on a simple reason that a certain interpreter cannot be in a certain court because she or he has not been assigned to that particular judge.
“If you compare our High Court with the Nigerian situation, you find that ours is equivalent to their local court.
“Here, people just don’t care. People don’t care about so many things; be it punctuality or professionalism.
“For instance, I was in Bloemfontein last week. If lawyers are not in court when trial is supposed to proceed, the case is struck off the roll. They mean business,” he said.
One of the Assessors, former Police Commissioner Jonas Malewa, also raised concern about the “lots of communication breakdown” between them and judges’ clerks, which sometimes lead to soured relationships.
“There are some administrative issues that adversely affect our duties. Normally, the courts start at 9:30am and we arrive in court on time.
“But we then spend a long time doing nothing. And I think judges’ clerks are to blame for this because sometimes, they tell us to remain in our offices, saying they would tell us once the judge goes to court.
“You would then be surprised to find that judges are already in court and when you confront that particular clerk who kept you waiting, he or she would simply tell you he or she forgot to let you know that the judge was going to court. This makes us appear irresponsible, yet it would not be our fault,” he said.
Some of the Assessors also accused certain judges of embarrassment by refusing to sit with them in trials as required by procedure.
They alleged when an Assessor goes to a judge he or she would have been assigned to assist, the response is sometimes hostile.
“You are sometimes told that there is no law that compels him or her to sit with an Assessor, and you are sent away.
“It is very embarrassing for grown-ups to be expelled like that,” one of the Assessors said.
However, Senior High Court judge, Justice Tšeliso Monaphathi said he was shocked to hear such claims by the Assessors.
“Is this happening in our court? I have never heard of such a thing in over 20 years of being on the bench,” Justice Monaphathi said.
“In the past, Assessors used to be appointed without an established criteria or vision to train them in future, while other cadres, including judicial officers, received training in various aspects of the law. Assessors were sadly left in the lurch.
“An Assessor, ladies and gentlemen, plays a very critical role in assisting the court reach an informed judgment.
“He or she is a person appointed to assist the court in trying a case which requires specialised technical knowledge.
“In our jurisdiction, Assessors are used virtually exclusively in criminal trials. Their role is to assist the court in reaching an informed judgment in matters of fact only. In matters of law, it is the exclusive province of the judge.”