By Nat Molomo
MASERU — Suspended Court of Appeal President Justice Michael Ramodibedi has intensified his spirited battle to avoid getting fired from his venerable post.
In a recent notice of appeal against a court judgment allowing the government to purse his impeachment, Ramodibedi fires a broadside against Prime Minister Thomas Thabane whom he accuses of “interfering” with the independence of the judiciary. By initiating a process to have him impeached, Ramodibedi also accuses Thabane of “offending” the cardinal principle of separation of powers between the judiciary, the legislature and the executive entrenched in the constitution of Lesotho.
Ramodibedi argues in his latest court papers that Thabane’s bid to advise King Letsie III to initiate a process to have him impeached should never have been launched without him being heard first.
The Court of Appeal President suffered a major setback last November when the High Court, sitting as a Constitutional Court, dismissed his application contesting Thabane’s bid to have him impeached.
This after the King, on the advice of Thabane, had set up a three judge tribunal to probe Ramodibedi over allegations of judicial misconduct, leading to his possible impeachment.
Ramodibedi had sought to halt the entire process, arguing that his side of the story should have been heard first before the process of establishing the tribunal to probe him had been started.
South African judges, Judge John Musi, Judge Omtheletse Moshidi and Judge Shuled Potterrill, hired to hear the case, dismissed Ramodibedi’s application to interdict the entire process of investigating his alleged misconduct in a ruling delivered on November 22 2013.
The three judges ruled that Ramodibedi was not entitled to be heard prior to the decision to appoint the tribunal to investigate him.
They insisted that the Appeal Court President would receive a fair hearing in the course of the tribunal’s probe into his alleged misconduct.
But Ramodibedi has begged to differ.
He is now appealing against the entire judgment of the three imported High Court judges, who sat as a Constitutional Court he is leader, is now set to delay the tribunal’s misconduct investigation against him.
In his appeal, Ramodibedi cites Thabane, the attorney-general and the three South African judges who were appointed to the tribunal to probe him as respondents.
The three tribunal judges are Justices Zachy Yacoob, Yvonne Mokgoro and M Joffe.
Ramodibedi’s appeal escalates a feud that has rocked the Kingdom’s judiciary in the last several years and left its reputation on the brink.
The quarrel has its roots in a long-running battle between Ramodibedi and former Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla over seniority on the bench.
When Thabane took office, he reportedly asked the two senior judges to quit because their seniority quarrels threatened to plunge the judiciary into disrepute.
Lehohla, who is now the new chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), duly obliged and quit his post. But Ramodibedi, who also serves as the chief justice of Swaziland, dug in his heels, and refused to comply with Thabane’s order.
The Prime Minister then initiated the process to have Ramodibedi impeached, a move that the Court of Appeal President now appears set to fight to the very bitter end.
Ramodibedi argues that the Prime Minister’s move to have him impeached is unconstitutional and remains at odds with the doctrine of separation of powers.
Ramodibedi’s lawyers, Advocates Salemane Phafane KC, Zwelakhe Mda KC and Sakoane Sakoane KC, lists, several other grounds for his appeal.
But they particularly argue that the failure to afford Justice Ramodibedi a hearing before the initiation of the impeachment process against him had “resulted in the failure of justice”.
They say the court ought to have held that Justice Ramodibedi was entitled to be heard before Thabane made representations to the King under section 125 (5) of the Constitution.
Failure to do so effectively infringed on Justice Ramodibedi’s fundamental right to procedural fairness, equality before the law and equal protection of the law, thus putting into question the entire process of law, the lawyers argue.
They also say the court erred and misdirected itself in awarding costs against Ramodibedi, thus effectively punishing him for attempting to vindicate his constitutional rights to be heard.
Ramodibedi’s lawyers say the costs order is at odds with the court’s own finding that this was a matter of “national interest.