‘Justice system on its knees’

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MASERU — The president of the Lesotho Court of Appeal last Friday attacked High Court judges for failing to deliver written reasons for their judgments.
Justice Michael Ramodibedi was speaking at the close of the session of the Court of Appeal in Maseru.
He said the Court of Appeal had on numerous occasions deplored the failure of some High Court judges to deliver written reasons for their judgments.
“This notwithstanding, the practice continues unabated to the detriment of the administration of justice in this country,” Justice Ramodibedi said.
The president of the Court of Appeal cited the case of Molahlehi Mohale whose case has been pending in the courts since 1997.
“The indictment is dated 2 July 1997. Incredibly, the trial only commenced on 18 June 2008, a delay of more than 10 years.
“There is no explanation for this inordinate delay,” Justice Ramodibedi said.
The president also complained over the delays in transcribing records of proceedings of the High Court.
He said it was the responsibility of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to prepare court records after receiving the records from the registrar of the High Court.
“Due to apparent lack of proper case management in the High Court, tapes often go missing or are blatantly stolen in the hope of destroying evidence,” Justice Ramodibedi said.
The DPP is therefore “handicapped in the preparation of records,” he said.
The president cited the case of Thabiso Mothobi and four others who were charged with murder.
Mothobi, Bokang Moloangoana and Kutoane Kori were convicted and sentenced to death by the High Court on 31 August 2006.
They appealed against their conviction and sentence.
“Because of missing tapes, however, their appeals were only heard during this session on the limited record as ordered by the president of this court.
“The most frightening thing is that some of the appellants, namely, Thabiso Mothobi, Lesaoana Molomo and Molai Mosoaboli have now been found not guilty and acquitted by this court.
“Their sentences have accordingly been set aside after having spent more than three years in prison,” Justice Ramodibedi said.
“For the record the death sentences imposed by the High Court on Bokang Molongoana and Kutoane Kori have been set aside. This court has found that there are extenuating circumstances in their cases.”
Justice Ramodibedi said the three have since been sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.
“If there is proof of the collapse of the justice system, the few examples quoted above provide such proof. This is a matter of grave concern to this court,” said the judge.
Justice Ramodibedi said a total of 19 cases were heard and disposed of by the Court of Appeal “with the customary speed and diligence” during the last session.
He said judgments with full reasons were produced in each of the cases that had been dealt with by the court.
“It is hoped that this industry, professionalism and dedication on the part of the honourable Appeal Court Judges will serve as an example to other judicial officers in the country,” he said.
The courts in Lesotho are struggling with a backlog of cases some of them dating back to the early 1990s.
Earlier this year, the Law Society of Lesotho set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the inefficiencies in the judiciary.
Lawyers who spoke during the commission’s hearings blasted judges accusing them of delaying judgments.
They also accused some judges of spending more time attending workshops and doing personal businesses instead of dealing with the mounting backlog of cases.

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