By Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MAFETENG – Protection of rights, upholding the rule of law and maintenance of social order are some of the end results of an expedited justice system that is efficient and delivers timely outcomes to disputes.

The public has for long complained about lengthy and expensive justice processes that potentially delays legal proceedings in courts.

The Head of Cooperation at the European Union (EU) Delegation to Lesotho, Mario Varrenti believes that timely and easy access to justice are fundamental and those can be achieved through an efficient and decentralized justice system.

This he said during the launch of the EU financed programme titled “Support for reforms and strengthening of governance in Lesotho programme” last week in Mafeteng.

Critical to this programme is the decentralization of the justice sector services, their increased capacity, easily accessible justice to all especially for women, girls and ‘marginalized’ groups. This project also seeks to ensure robust legislative oversight institutions such as the Ombudsman, the Office of the Auditor-General, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO).

He also stated that the parliamentarians will be capacitated in order to effectively perform their oversight function at their portfolio committees. 

He characterized the move to launch this governance strengthening programme as the “efforts to improve justice delivery cannot succeed if they are designed and implemented far from citizens”.

The EU’s Head of Cooperation continued: “We believe that justice delayed is justice denied. When that happens, citizen’s end up losing trust in the legal system, individuals who are survivors of crimes or wrongfully accused of crimes may suffer from prolonged emotional and psychological distress while waiting for their cases to be resolved.

“Legal battles can be expensive… and the cost of hiring lawyers, attending court hearings and other related expenses can be a significant financial burden on citizens. When survivors see that justice is not served promptly or effectively, they may be deterred from reporting crimes out of fear that they will not see a resolution or that they face retaliation from the perpetrators.

“Lengthy justice system can lead to overcrowding in prisons due to long pre-trial retentions and slow court processes resulting in harsh conditions for inmates and hindering efforts at rehabilitation.

The programme will see the expedition of the delivery of justice. He stressed that the judicial system is mostly centered around Maseru, adding that this poses a challenge for some people to access the services.

This Varrenti believes could be achieved among others is: the implementation of the impending Speedy Courts Trial Act and the use of standardized procedures to handle ‘specific crimes’ including gender-based violence (GBV), the expansion of legal aid to the vulnerable communities, the establishment of child-friendly courts in all districts.

Varrenti said the EU has been a supporter of the constitutional reforms in line with the “letter and spirit” of the Basotho wishes as espoused in the Multistakeholder National Dialogue Plenary II Report, 2019.

For her part, the Deputy Prime Minister who also happens to be the Minister of Justice and Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Justice Nthomeng Majara thanked the EU saying this programme come at an opportune moment when the country is undergoing the national reforms process that are intended to take Basotho towards a much desired path of peace, reconciliation, national unity and prosperity.

“It is no secret that Lesotho has undergone tremendous challenges for quite a while now which were characterized by among others political instability, security crisis, weak governance and justice institutions, endemic corruption and alarming increase of GBV, human trafficking, cold-blooded murders to mention but a few and escalating crime in general,” Justice Majara stressed.

 “Our cooperation with the people of Lesotho is wide-ranging, it goes from efforts to preserve natural resources particularly land and water. To support your vision of a renewable Lesotho that relies more and more on clean energy while creating jobs, skills and opportunities especially to the younger generations.

“However, what lies at the heart of our partnership is the belief that none of this would be possible without strong, effective and accountable institutions,” Varrenti said.