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Zim judge presiding in controversial Lesotho murder trials, starts work

A number of controversial murder trials are about to get under way in Lesotho, presided over by foreign judges to ensure the cases are seen to be fairly conducted and without bias to either side. The murders allegedly involve high-ranking figures from the country's politicians, army and police as victims and/or assassins. The first cases were due to start last week under Jifa alum Judge Charles Hungwe of Zimbabwe, but they were delayed due to the absence of the defence lawyers for the accused.

A string of controversial murder trials is about to get under way in Lesotho, under several foreign judges chosen to ensure that the cases are seen as unbiased.

Judge Charles Hungwe from Zimbabwe was the first of the judges to arrive in Lesotho late January. He has responsibility for drawing up the roll of cases for each of the foreign judges to hear. The cases are particularly sensitive because they involve senior military and political figures, either as victims or as assassins – or both.

Lesotho: New judgment reinstates Mosito

A DECISIVE new judgment by five acting judges of Lesotho’s highest court has found that the former president of the appeal court, Kananelo Mosito, who resigned to pre-empt his impeachment, has been validly reappointed by government. The new decision that will see the acting chief justice swearing in Mosito very soon does not, however, resolve Lesotho’s continuing judicial problems and in particular the alarming issue of ongoing political interference with the judiciary.

 

THE decision, delivered on Friday morning by the highest court in Lesotho, was entirely predictable given the tone of questioning and discussion in court during the hearing earlier in the week.

Lesotho’s Court of Appeal has not been operating for some time as the judicial crisis surrounding the head of that court has played out, but five acting judges, headed by former Zambian judge, Philip Musonda, were appointed to hear this matter.

Women Chief Justices in Africa: why are they under threat?

VERY, very few women in Africa hold the position of Chief Justice or deputy Chief Justice. On the last count, just five women hold these posts in the southern and east African countries we most regularly write about.  And yet two of these five women are under threat of prosecution or impeachment, while a third who has been facing an impeachment tribunal emerged unscathed last week. Against this background, the story of the inquiry into the Chief Justice of Seychelles, Mathilda Twomey, makes sober reading for the general public.

WOMEN in African’s top judicial positions will have been watching the case of their colleague, the Chief Justice of Seychelles, Mathilda Twomey, with more than keen interest. It is a remarkable fact that, of the southern and east African countries whose decisions we have been writing about recently, women hold top office in just a tiny number of countries. And yet most of these already few women are under scrutiny, facing threat of impeachment or prosecution.

Lesotho’s acting chief justice slows pending litigation brought by sidelined Chief Justice

THE judicial crisis in Lesotho shows no signs of resolution. While the suspended Chief Justice waits in limbo for a tribunal to investigate government claims against her, the acting chief justice has stepped in to stamp her authority on the situation. Among others, the actions of the ACJ have slowed a planned constitutional court hearing scheduled to deal with the dispute between the government and the CJ.

IN the midst of the judicial crisis in Lesotho, that country’s new acting chief justice has moved swiftly to stamp her authority on the courts and on the processes that had been put in place to prevent the suspension of the beleaguered chief justice.

On Sunday afternoon, 16 September, the new ACJ, Judge Maseforo Mahase, granted an ex parte order against Lesotho’s Chief Justice, Judge Nthomeng Majara stipulating that the latter was barred from the precincts of the palace of justice. She also barred Judge Majara from any activities associated with the role of the CJ.

When “straying” courts need to be “reined in"

HERE is a rare situation: three judges of Swaziland’s highest legal forum, the supreme court, confessing they are at a loss to understand what is happening in the courts below. This after two high court judges issued contradictory orders in relation to a bail hearing and the supreme court was asked to intervene and sort out the mess. Did the supreme court have the power to do so? It was a novel question, testing certain of its constitutional powers for the first time.

This story appeared first in LegalBrief.

Court bars suspended Chief Justice from entering Palace of Justice

IN a week of high drama, the Chief Justice of Lesotho has been ordered by the high court to stay out of the Palace of Justice and not to carry out any functions relating to her office. This follows her suspension, in apparent defiance of two court orders barring the government from taking steps to ask that the King suspend her.

THE court order barring the Chief Justice from access to the court complex was made by one of the CJ’s colleagues and the judge appointed as Acting Chief Justice, Maseforo Mahase.

That order was the culmination of several days of fevered activity on the subject of the government’s determined efforts to get rid of the CJ, Judge Nthomeng Majara.

Lesotho, Namibia, SA judges in controversial recusal decisions

CONCERN and confusion about recusal decisions by judges in the region continued this week. Most significant of these cases was a startling high court order against the chief justice of Lesotho. It was granted by the judge appointed as acting chief justice in her place who, in other jurisdictions, might have been expected to recuse herself. Other cases involving controversial recusal decisions this week come from SA and Namibia.

WHEN the Chief Justice of Lesotho, Nthomeng Majara, was officially suspended on 12 September, government named an acting chief justice: Judge Maseforo Mahase.

The next day, through a letter from her legal team, the Chief Justice disputed the legality of the suspension, saying there were two court orders that specifically barred her suspension, and that when she returned from a conference in Australia she intended to return to her office and take up her normal work.

The eight allegations against Lesotho’s Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara, and their context

LIKE the former president of Lesotho’s highest court, the Chief Justice may be seen as a victim of the clash between two competing political interest groups: there is now an established pattern in terms of which one party or interest group makes a top judicial appointment and then, when the other grouping gets into power, it seeks to get rid of that jurist and put its own candidate in place.

AFTER it was voted into power the present Maseru government removed the president of the court of appeal, appointed by the previous government, and sought to replace him with Kananelo Mosito, the disgraced former head of the appeal court. However, earlier this year a full bench of judges declared the government acted unlawfully in removing the constitutionally appointed new head of the appeal court, SA Judge Robert Nugent. The court also found the re-appointment of Mosito was unlawful. Since then the court of appeal has effectively ceased to operate in Lesotho.

A country waits: when will Zimbabwe’s constitutional court give its long-delayed decision?

PROMPT delivery of decisions is seen as so important that some African countries even discipline judges who do not give judgments within a reasonable time. But in Zimbabwe, the constitutional court has still failed to hand down a crucial judgment two years and eight months after hearing. This in a country where the maximum delay tolerated by the judicial code of ethics is six months.

WHILE the country waits, Zimbabwe’s constitutional court judges are still considering whether to tell parliament it must obey the constitution.

The court’s delay follows a case brought by the local legal information organization, Veritas, complaining that a key section of the constitution had not been implemented more than five years after the country’s supreme law came into effect in 2013.

Recusals in Swaziland and Lesotho: cause for concern?

RECUSAL of judges – when they should stand down, when not and if judges are always properly deciding whether to hear a case – has emerged as a serious issue in both Lesotho and Swaziland. In both those jurisdictions, decisions about recusal have left litigants worried that, with no judges available to hear their matters, they could have no access to justice.

SEVERAL cases in Swaziland have come to a halt over the last weeks because judges have recused themselves. Their decisions raise the questions whether they were correct to do so in the circumstances, and how litigation can proceed when judicial officers decline to hear a matter.

Without a written judgment on recusal decisions it is not easy to know whether the thinking measures up to constitutional standards, but in at least one case, the judges concerned are to be formally asked for reasons in writing.

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