Public Service unions have resolved to lodge a formal complaint to Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo against some judges of the High Court and Court of Appeal whom he alleged could be receiving bribes.
The hard hitting petition which is in the form of a letter dated 14 October addressed to Dibotelo follows a circular insinuating that lawyers were bribing judges and court staff on behalf of litigants to ensure a favourable outcome of cases.
The unions who are affiliated to the Botswana Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) stated that given the seriousness of the allegations of bribery, “those judges whom you suspect of receiving bribes from litigants and legal representatives would have by now been on administrative leave pending a full investigation into these allegations. Our investigations reveal that no judge has been placed on administrative leave.”
The unions further state that if the insinuations are without any foundation that warrants further investigation, then Dibotelo is being reckless and is engaging in conduct that is inconsistent with what is expect of a Chief Justice.
“Your Lordship’s approach, with the greatest…, demonstrates a complete lack of tact,” states BOFEPUSU in the petition signed by the Union’s Deputy Secretary General, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa.
Denouncing Dibotelo’s circular, BOFEPUSU said, “We are shocked and dismayed as to how you expect the public to continue litigating before the court that you overlook, if Your Lordship as the head of the judiciary in Botswana, has no confidence in the integrity of judges.”
“These grave allegations speak volumes of the level of confidence you have in your peers, many of whom you have recommended through the Judicial Service (“the JSC”) for appointment,” BOFEPUSU stated.
According to the Unions, Dibotelo’s insinuations that litigants are involved in forum shopping, resulted in them having to answer enquiries as to whether as regular litigants before the Courts they were involved in forum shopping.
“These inquiries have been brought about by the fact that our matters are usually of public interest. We wish to place it on record that we have never had to resort to this practice, but we may do so in future if we have no faith in the competence of the judges who have been assigned to preside over a matter that we have filed with the courts,” said the unions.
The unions say it would be a waste of their members’ funds to engage legal representatives to argue a case before a judge who has little appreciation of the arguments being advanced.
“Your Lordship has raised concern about litigants and their legal representatives forum shopping. It is most na├»ve to believe that judging is an objective art, in which judges’ legal experience, competence, life experience and upbringing have no influence on the determination of matters.
“The reality which has long been acknowledged the world over is that all these factors play a pivotal role on the dispensation of justice. Some judges have a conservative-executive minded outlook to legal matters and others have more liberal approach. This has nothing to do with integrity and everything to do with one’s jurisprudential vision, socialisation and perception of justice.”
The unions added that “in our respectful view, although all judges of the High Court are of cognate jurisdiction, there is nothing wrong with litigants wanting their matters heard by judges whom they believe are most likely to do justice to their matter.”
Forum shopping only becomes morally wrong and unethical, BOFEPUSU says, when it is initiated by the bench itself because judges are not supposed to have an interest in matters that come before them.
The unions are of the view that the Chief Justice Office is a perennial culprit when it comes to interfering with the allocation of matters to influence their outcome.
“In Good v. Attorney General, the Chief Justice’s office removed the matter from Justice Marumo who interdicted a deportation order and allocated it to judges who were seen as more likely to be sympathetic to the Government. In Motswaledi v. Khama, Justice Dingake was removed from the case to make way for a panel of three judges, which was seen as more likely to be sympathetic to the President’s case…” says BOFEPUSU.
The unions say they have previously raised concern about the quality of judicial appointments and have articulated their view that the JSC seems to have made executive mindedness the main criteria for appointment to the bench.
“We believe this is a more worthwhile issue to look into, rather than that of the greasing of judges’ palms which is probably the result of picking up petty gossip which has no substance,” concluded BOFEPUSU.