Monday, October 26, 2020

Three High Court judges return to work next month

After more than a year on forced leave, three of the four High Court judges who were suspended in 2015 return to their duty stations on January 1, 2018.

The judges are Justices Dr. Key Dingake, Modiri Letsididi and Rainer Busang. The fourth, Justice Mercy Garekwe, went back to work in July this year. The judges were on suspension for having drawn double housing benefit. A certain cadre of civil servants gets housing allowance in instances when they are not provided with government houses. Over varying durations, the quartet drew the allowance while staying in government houses. On the determination that this constituted theft, Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo reported the matter to the police as well as to President Ian Khama who, as the appointing authority, suspended the judges with a view to removing them from office. The judges had also been party to a petition that raised grave concern about Dibotelo’s stewardship of the Administration of Justice. The warring parties managed to reach a truce earlier this year, reportedly apologizing to Khama.

Apparently what happens behind closed doors at OP doesn’t stay behind closed doors because soon thereafter, the latter detail was leaked to the press in a move that was obviously designed to let the public would know who had won. First to break ranks was the quartet of Justices Kholisani Solo (now retired), Barnabas Nyamadzabo, Bengbame Sechele and Michael Leburu who formally withdrew from the petition. While the first three wrote apology letters, Leburu apologised verbally to the Chief Justice.

After the suspension of the four judges, new ones were appointed on an acting basis. Dingake was replaced by Boipuso Tshweneyagae, Letsididi by Jennifer Dube, Garekwe by Godfrey Radijeng and Busang by Kabelo Lebotse. In July, Justice Singh Walia retired from the bench, opening up a position to which Radijeng was appointed on a permanent basis. In turn, the latter open up another position that Garekwe filled. Tshweneyagae, Dube and Lebotse remained in post which meant that even though their suspension had been lifted, Dingake, Letsididi and Busang could not immediately return to presiding over cases as their positions were still held by acting judges. That ends on December 31 when all acting judges return to their normal duty stations. In instances where cases were not concluded, the returning judges will take over the judicial process.

In no way does the return of the judges to work mean that the highly anomalous situation that almost crippled the judiciary has returned to normal. The fight over the petition is not nearly over. Dibotelo still has a bone to chew with the last set of four High Court judges (Justices Gaolapelwe Ketlogetswe, Lot Moroka, Godfrey Nthomiwa and Tshepo Motswagole) who signed the controversial petition. The four have dug in their heels and are appealing an unfavourable High Court decision related to this matter at the Court of Appeal.

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