By Lekhetho Ntsukunyane
MASERU – A group of senior lawyers on Wednesday this week backed Court of Appeal president, Justice Mathealira Michael Ramodibedi’s refusal to succumb to government pressure to resign.
The lawyers, Molefi Ntlhoki, Zwelakhe Mda, Salemane Phafane, Sakoane Sakoane, Motia Teele, Letuka Molati, Karabo Mohau and Qhalehang Letsika told Prime Minister Dr Motsoahae Thabane in a statement government’s directive for Justice Ramodibedi to step down was unconstitutional.
The lawyers warned the removal of any judge from the bench could only be sanctioned by the Constitution of Lesotho.
Their statement is also copied to Law and Constitutional Affairs Minister Haae Phoofolo, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Mophato Monyake, Attorney General Tšokolo Makhethe and Ramodibedi.
The statement is further copied to the Law Society, Diplomatic Missions in Lesotho, Southern African Development Community (SADC) Lawyers’ Association, Commonwealth Lawyers’ Association, International Commission of Jurists and the Media Institute of Southern Africa – Lesotho.
The lawyers indicated they had discovered “with a sense of dismay and shock” that Justice Ramodibedi was recently ordered to resign for allegedly being responsible for the mess in the judiciary.
Ramodibedi is said to have been requested to quit his job by Thabane, in the presence of Phoofolo and Monyake, on April 22 this year.
The lawyers said: “While we acknowledge that there are problems in the judiciary, and that there is need to reform and to address such problems which are systematic in nature, we reject and despise as unconstitutional, the approach taken by the government of Lesotho by requesting or demanding that a sitting judicial officer should resign.”
They added there was no other extra-constitutional procedure for impeaching judicial officers recognised in Lesotho, “given the ethos and values to which Lesotho bound herself”.
“Government should discharge its constitutional obligations as fully set out in Section 118 (3), by protecting and according the judiciary such assistance as the courts may require to enable them to protect their independence, dignity and effectiveness, instead of being the first one to make this important organ of state vulnerable.”
The lawyers said the protection and safeguarding of the rights of all the country’s citizens, depended on a strong judiciary that is able to dispense justice without fear or favour.
“We share and support the position of Justice Ramodibedi in refusing to submit to pressure to resign as this is not only unconstitutional, but will create a wrong impression and bad precedent for our fragile and fledgling democracy,” noted the lawyers.
They called upon the government to refrain and avoid acts that may tend to suggest that courts of law were useless or manned by people that could easily be removed.
The courts were manned by professionals who have sacrificed their personal and professional lives to protect human rights and uphold the rule of law, the lawyers also noted.
“These are legal professionals who decided to accept appointments to serve the Basotho nation and its people in resolving their disputes without fear or favour.”
The government’s order that Ramodibedi resigns was likely to spark an unnecessary constitutional crisis, the lawyers indicated, calling on the authorities to “redress” their actions.
The lawyers also criticised government’s directive to stop the payment of allowances due and payable to Justice Ramodibedi.
“We have been dismayed by the directives given to the Registrar of the High Court and Court of Appeal and the Commissioner of Police, emanating from the government, that Justice Ramodibedi should be deprived of the vehicles entrusted to his office for use by being deprived of same by sheer force from him if he does not surrender them,” they noted.
They added it was an internationally accepted principle of constitutional and international law that judicial officers’ salaries and benefits, cannot be altered to their prejudice.
“It is therefore unthinkable that they can be withdrawn altogether,” the lawyers charged.
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