MASERU – Law Society of Lesotho president, Advocate Zwelakhe Mda, says the absence of a code of conduct for judges is impacting negatively on the administration of justice in the country.
Advocate Mda made the remarks while addressing the Court of Appeal during the official opening of its first session in Maseru on Monday.
“We have come to realise that central to the woes of serious deficiencies in the administration of justice in our kingdom is the lack of a code of conduct for judges,” said Mda.
Mda said such a code would address “insidious threats” to the independence of the judiciary in Lesotho.
He cited the perennial delays in delivering judgments as well as the “deferment of judicial duties in order to attend state banquets and other functions.”
Mda said the code of conduct would also deal with judges’ involvement in “activities that cause furore and inflame public anger.”
He cited the acquisition of vehicles under the controversial Imperial Scheme that saw High Court judges and government ministers acquiring vehicles at one percent of its book value.
“This was a paradigm of serious lapse of judgment whose parallel in other jurisdictions resulted in the full throttling of the judiciary,” Mda said.
Under the scheme judges, government ministers and senior civil servants bought luxury vehicles for one percent of their original value.
For example, some judges and ministers bought their C-Class Mercedes Benz for as little as M4 000 triggering public anger.
The media and civil society also criticised the scheme
But the government defended the car scheme saying it was meant to attract competent leaders into government and the civil service.
Mda said the car scheme was similar to the controversial acquisition of commercial farms by some judges in Zimbabwe.
Several High Court and Supreme Court judges were awarded commercial farms seized from white farmers under President Robert Mugabe’s controversial land reforms.
Human rights groups have criticised the move saying it left the judges heavily compromised and beholden to Mugabe.
Mda said the Law Society “expects all judicial officers to conduct cases with due expedition and deliver judgments timeously so that any necessary appeal and review processes are invoked.”
He said such an approach will build the public’s confidence “in the administration of justice and bolster democratic governance underpinned by rule of law.”
This was the first time that Mda addressed the Court of Appeal.
The Attorney General, Tsokolo Makhete, also addressed the court and praised the judges for the innovation.
The president of the Court of Appeal, Methealira Ramodibedi, is expected to deliver a speech when the court closes its first session on 9 April.