Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Shortage of courtrooms delay urgent applications

In a rare development at the Gaborone Industrial Court, an urgent application before Justice Isaac Bahuma could not proceed because of shortage of courtroom space. This happened last Wednesday morning when the hearing of a matter over Botswana Railways’ retrenchment ran over its allotted time while another party of litigants waited outside to use the same courtroom.

BR lawyer, Dineo Makati-Mpho, was still on the floor, arguing her client’s case when Bahuma appraised her of the situation: another judge, who was also dealing with an urgent application was supposed to be using the same courtroom on that day, was still waiting to go in and he had to give way. In the circumstances, he told Makati-Mpho that she would have to stop her submissions.

The lawyer’s response was that as an officer of the court, she was concerned about a situation where submissions had to be “hurried” because of a shortage of courtrooms. She felt that having gone in first, they should be allowed to proceed while the other judge waited.

“No matter is more urgent than another and the reason that this matter is urgent means that it has to be dealt with urgently,” she said, adding that the urgency of the matter was reason enough for the other party to wait out theirs.

She then asked how long it would be before the matter was disposed of and Bahuma’s response was “not before Friday.” This is a matter in which the Botswana Railways Amalgamated Workers Union is asking the court to stop the retrenchment exercise which should have been concluded yesterday (December 15) with the 147 employees being axed. As Makati-Mpho observed, the significance of the judge’s statement is that in essence the court has technically granted the interdict that BAWU seeks.

“It will have to stop,” Bahuma said, referring to the retrenchment.

If it is any consolation to BR, the legal year ended on Friday and the workload has eased quite significantly. Bahuma promised to hand down judgement “as soon as possible, maybe next week.”

The first special court established to deal with labour disputes, the Industrial Court is heaving under a cumbersome workload. To give an indication of just how heavy that load is, the previous day, Sesupo Mosweu (the BRAWU lawyer) had stated in the course of his submission that it takes three years for a case to be heard at the court and noted that some matters pending before the court go back to 2005. As it has emerged, courtroom space is a factor: the court has eight judges but only five courtrooms.

All the faces of capitalism rear up as litigants cycle in and out of court. On the same day that BR and its employees locked horns, in another court, an employer was facing off with an ex-employee.

When the judge said that the matter would have to be postponed, the employee told the court that that would be a challenge for him because he didn’t have money to travel from Kang where he is currently working for a Chinese construction company to attend court in Gaborone. Asked how much he would need for a return trip, the man said P300. The employer’s lawyer suggested that while amount seemed a little too steep for the actual fare, his client would nonetheless provide the money. The judge quipped: “Perhaps he is travelling first-class.” Sunday Standard was able to independently establish that the return bus fare between the said places is actually P160.

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