The Law Society of Botswana has said that the country’s judiciary system is in crisis citing what it calls “A dark cloud hangs over the judiciary.”
In a statement, the Society said the recent developments at the judiciary have further deepened the crisis that was already there.
“The country’s judiciary has for many years been lauded for its independence and its integrity. It has generally enjoyed public confidence. This public confidence has been greatly eroded over the last several months,” the Society said. Regrettably, the Society said, the head of the judiciary, the Chief Justice (Terrence Rannowane) has done little to safeguard the image of the judiciary and to arrest the rot that continues to spread at an alarming rate.
Over the last several months, Society said, Rannowane has engaged in acts that have brought great harm to the image of the judiciary.
“The manipulation of allocation of cases by the Chief Justice, in high profile disputes and matters in which the executive has an interest, has previously been highlighted by the Council of the Law Society as a matter of grave concern to the legal profession,” the Society said.
According to the statement: “The Chief Justice is on record seeking to justify allocating a politically sensitive case, during court vacation, concerning the issuance of search warrants, to Justice Gabanagae, even though he was not the vacation judge, on the basis that the matter required a senior judge.”
“The Chief Justice made this assertion notwithstanding the fact that Justice Gabanagae is a relatively junior judge. We have noted that since the Chief Justice ascended to office, Justice Gabanagae has on many matters of public interest, where a full bench has been impanelled, inevitably been asked to form a part of the panel,” the Society said.
This, the Society said, raises questions as to what the basis for him being consistently preferred is. “It therefore came as no surprise to the Council when Justice Gabanagae was chosen ahead of all other judges, by the Judicial Service Commission to chair the Delimitation Commission,” the Society said.
The Law Society noted that aappointments that are not based on any objective criteria only serve to discredit the independence of the judiciary. The Law Society said it has for the last several years challenged the JSC to become more transparent in its decision-making.
It said a transparent decision-making process would limit complaints and suspicions of appointments based on favouritism ahead of merit.
Currently, the Society said, it seems that decisions of the JSC are not based on what is in the best interests of the public but are rather calculated to appease the executive.
“The JSC’s recent decision to recommend Justice Tebogo Maruping ahead of other more experienced, and efficient judges of the High Court and Industrial Court is testament to the fact that merit is no longer a consideration in the JSC’s decision-making process,” said the Society.
The statement said; “We expect any person holding the office of Chief Justice to use his position as chairperson of the JSC to ensure that there is a credible process of appointment that results in the best men and women available to serve the nation being appointed to the bench rather than those that those seemingly wanted by the executive,” said the Society.
It said over the last several months social media accounts under various pseudonyms have been used to attack the integrity of judges.
“Justice Reuben Lekorwe was attacked and labelled an opposition judge after he delivered a well-reasoned judgment that was unfavourable to the Directorate of Intelligence and Security and the establishment. The same attackers have been quick to praise the executive,” the Society said.
According to the statement; “All indications suggest that the operatives of the social media accounts are security agents advancing a nefarious agenda of the executive.”
Not once did the Administration of Justice come to his aid, the Society said. The Law Society said Judges should not have to defend themselves against unfounded and scurrilous attacks.
“Justice Ketlogetswe, following his judgment in the Dr. Matsheka case, and his recent complaint against the Chief Justice, has also been attacked by the same operatives through the use of a social media account operated by the state, and labelled a cadre of the Botswana Congress Party (“BCP”), who was part of the group that took part in the violent Botswana National Front Congress that precipitated birth to the BCP,” the statement said. Ironically, the statement said, instead of defending the members of the judiciary against these scurrilous attacks, the Chief Justice in his response to Justice Ketlogetswe’s complaint has joined these attacks and accused Justice Ketlogetswe of being an opposition operative.
“One would expect that the Chief Justice would issue a statement and call for a cessation of these attacks on members of the judiciary rather than join the attacks,” the Society said.
It said there is disparity in provision of security protection by the executive to judges of the High Court, with those that are favoured by the executive receiving more security than other judges. “It is a matter of public knowledge that Judge Gabanagae receives greater security protection than other judges. Disparity in treatment of judges destroys any perception of independence. It creates the impression that those who are willing to deliver for the executive will be looked after,” the Society said.