A minor error almost stalled the case in which four High Court judges are suing President Ian Khama for suspending them from work.
In apparent effort to make the case allocation system as fool-proof as possible, cases at the High Court are not allocated by management (the Chief Justice or the Registrar and Master of the High Court) but by a computer. Such allocation is chiefly made on the basis of the amount of workload that a judge has.
Recently, the judiciary has been undergoing turmoil of epic proportions and not too long ago, Khama suspended four judges (Justices Key Dingake, Modiri Letsididi, Mercy Garekwe and Rainer Busang) for allegedly disrespecting the Chief Justice and receipt of housing allowance they weren’t entitled to. Khama followed up by assembling a tribunal to look into the matter and at a point where the tribunal was to convene, the four judges brought an urgent application to halt the process.
When first registered at the High Court, the matter was allocated to Justice Walia Singh by the court’s case management system. As it happened, Justice Walia was away on leave, which necessitated starting the registration process over to redirect the case to an available judge. Thus the matter ended up in the court of Justice Tebogo Tau at the Lobatse High Court. Having earlier been scheduled to start this past Thursday, the case has been postponed to Friday.
While the use of a computer provides some safeguards, there are still loopholes in the system that some in the legal fraternity allegedly take advantage of. In 2013, Chief Justice Dibotelo stated that some lawyers were conniving with registry staff to direct matters to judges likely to provide a favourable judgement. This practice is known as forum shopping. It turns out that even with computers, a case can be forum-shopped by registering and withdrawing it until it goes to a judge whom a lawyer believes will deliver a favourable judgement.