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Teele wants more power for magistrates



MASERU – Prominent lawyer Advocate Motia Teele KC has called on magistrates to be granted greater powers to deal with criminal and civil cases to help alleviate the huge pressure on High Court judges.

If adopted the measure could see the magistracy absorb some of the workload from the High Court, he said.

Advocate Teele was speaking to thepost last week following the inauguration of the Tšifa-li-Mali High Court in Leribe.

“There is no reason why suspects of robbery and attempted murder apply for bail in the High Court and not in the subordinate courts that have powers to try them,” Advocate Teele said.

He said even more incongruous was the fact that the magistrates possess monetary jurisdiction of no more than M25 000.

“The economy cannot be managed properly when only the High Court can handle civil monetary claims,” he said.

“Substantial funds will not circulate in the economy until legal suits are settled in the High Court, which is still understaffed.”

Advocate Teele said there is no reason why the High Court should be burdened with the bulk of the trial work when they have qualified magistrates who have masters’ degrees and valuable experience on the bench.

“Unless changes are done in this area, we fear the High Court will be doomed to fail due to the sheer volume of work,” he said.

He said unless the High Court considers sharing cases with the other courts, “they will fail to overcome the backlog of cases”.

There is a backlog of over 4 000 cases in the High Court, some dragging from as far as 10 years ago, and they continue to pile despite the hiring of three acting judges to deal with the matters three months ago.

The three judges, retired Justice Semapo Peete, Justices Tšabo Matooane and Palesa Rantara, dispensed off about 20 cases before their time expired.

They had been contracted for three months.

He said the backlog of cases has grown so much over the years that even the present complement of judges is hardly sufficient to clear it within a reasonable time.

The High Court sworn in seven new permanent judges earlier this week.

Advocate Teele said he is pleased that Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane had resuscitated the practice of appointment of acting judges to tackle the backlog of cases.

He however said he hopes that Justice Sakoane will receive the necessary resources and support so that he may continue with that practice.

“This court should not only work hard but must also work smart,” he said.

Advocate Teele said he is “painfully aware that the public is concerned about the rising levels of crime, especially violent crimes against the elderly, women and children”.

“There is a perception that suspects are being treated with kid-gloves when they are granted bail by the courts,” he said.

He said this may threaten the legitimate efforts of the judiciary to administer justice while upholding the constitution.

He said the judiciary must achieve a delicate balance between keeping people in prison for inordinately long time before trials are concluded and upholding the constitutional values of affording them a trial within a reasonable period.

“When parliament enacted the Speedy Court Trial Act it was seeking to achieve this balance,” he said.

He said where crime statistics rise, criminal courts are overwhelmed by a workload of cases, with the accused languishing in jail.

He said that often leads to a perception that there is an ulterior motive behind the delays in dispensing justice.

Advocate Teele said another aspect is the need for the superior court to maintain consistency in their judgments.

“The absence of consistency in the decisions of superior courts is inimical to the legitimacy that such courts requires in order to enjoy the confidence of the public,” he said.

“When decisions are inconsistent, lawyers cannot advise their clients properly and the public cannot (conduct) its affairs with any degree of certainty,” he said.

“Failure to maintain consistency in the decision of the superior courts is subversive of the rule of law.”

He said he is hoping that this principle will be observed between the two divisions of the High Court, the newly inaugurated Tšifa-li-Mali High Court and the main court in Maseru, and within each division as well.

Advocate Teele said people have to be reminded that in this court and the Court of Appeal previous decisions must be followed unless there is a manifest oversight or mistake.

He said he is hoping that the Chief Justice will soon nominate a judge who will supervise the pre-trial detained prisoners, if he has not already done so, to ensure that the pre-trial detainees find an avenue of communicating to the court their plight, report and propose appropriate remedies when necessary.

He also congratulated the newly appointed judges adding that he hopes they will deliver justice without fear or favour.

’Malimpho Majoro

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