The judicial fall out

High court judges in happier times
High court judges in happier times

To many in the legal fraternity, Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo and his colleague Justice Key Dingake were like father and son.

The news that the Judicial Service Commission chaired by Dibotelo had reported four judges, including Dingake in July, to the police thus came as surprise.

Justices Dingake, Modiri Letsididi, Mercy Garekwe and Ranier Busang were named as the judges to face a police investigation following their undue receipt of housing allowances.

“He has written speeches for the Chief Justice, attended international meetings on his behalf, and was among the brilliant minds in the judiciary that the CJ believed in,” a legal brain close to the developments told Mmegi this week.

Having lost a High Court challenge against their suspension on Tuesday, the four judges now either appeal the matter or resign themselves to the tribunal appointed by President Ian Khama to probe their alleged misconduct.

The alleged misconduct relates to a petition the four judges, together with eight of their colleagues wrote against Dibotelo for calling the police into what they felt was an administrative matter. Three of the original 12 judges have subsequently withdrawn their names from the petition.  As the three-month dispute cools in the wake of Tuesday’s judgement, schools of thought have emerged about the relationship between the CJ and Dingake.

According to various sources, sometime last year, the Chief Justice queried the conduct of some of his juniors, even alleging possible “corruption and palm greasing”.

Mmegi sources say the report did not sit well with the judges at the country’s three High Courts – Lobatse, Gaborone, and Francistown.

“They immediately demanded a public apology from their boss and his trusted colleague was Dingake who went to appeal to the judges to calm down.”

“Dingake drove all night to Francistown to calm the raging judges there and the matter was resolved amicably.” Other commentators believe that even far beyond the two men’s relationship, the troubles in the judiciary are due to historic divisions between previous CJs and their judges.

“The clash between officers of the judiciary and the Chief Justice is not a new thing. In the past, judges and magistrates petitioned the former (late) Chief Justice Julian Nganunu over his leadership style, their working conditions and others. 

“He stepped down as Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission and allowed another judge to resolve the impasse,” said a lawyer who has been in practice for over two decades.

He cited another court case in the early 2000s when some judges demanded to be paid their gratuities, a matter that led to the establishment of the Judges Pension Fund.

However, there is another school of thought that the Executive is the hidden hand in the present troubles.  According to this line of though, the Executive has long privately expressed its frustrations with Dingake’s judgements and resolved to appeal every one of his judgements whenever the State loses.

Another legal expert confided that President Ian Khama, during an Administration of Justice conference held in Gaborone, joked that there were judges in whom government never held hopes of victory in its cases when they are presiding.

“It is clear that the main target is Dingake, the others could be just collateral damage,” said a senior government official on condition of anonymity.

 At the same conference, Khama reportedly joked about his childhood years, remarking that when he grew up, he knew judges as old men and women, not the current crop of young people.

According to other insiders, however, the current standoff stems back to a resolution taken at another Administration of Justice conference in Mahalapye to the effect that judges should regularly be sent for training to upgrade their skills in the latest developments and technologies in their fields.

To some, this was a most unwelcome resolution that would be a waste of public funds. Others within the judiciary, instead felt that training should commence immediately, leading to divisions.

For other commentators, however, the current woes in the judiciary are merely an indictment on government and a sign of inefficiencies in the civil service.

“The inefficiencies in government are shocking. You can get paid monies that are not due to you and you lodge a complaint but there is nobody willing to resolve the matter. How many government officials, even ministers have received payments that were not due to them?

“In some instances government continues to pay book allowances for students years after they have completed their studies.”

Meanwhile, as the tribunal prepares to start proceedings, it remains to be seen what kind of information will come out. It is also not clear whether the suspended judges will appeal the Tuesday judgment.

Editor's Comment
DCEC, DIS wars threaten gov’t trust

This came about after the DIS agents raided and sealed the DCEC offices last week in search of files allegedly opened by the corruption bursting agency investigators against some of the DIS officers.The move prompted DCEC head, Tymon Katlholo to approach the court to seek a restraining order against the DIS, which the court duly granted through a rule nisi.The turn of events came as a shock to many, especially that the impasse involves two...

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