The Judiciary of Lesotho has embarked on a new reform initiative under the Civil Legal Reform Project aimed at expediting the resolution of cases that are brought to the courts of law. In particular, the reform addresses the plight of ordinary Basotho who are aggrieved by the non-payment of relatively small claims, understanding that usual litigation processes can be costly and time-consuming.
This procedure will only apply to claims in the amount of M10, 000 or less, and could be by way of outstanding debts, rents, damage, or such like. These are relatively small amounts to take through conventional processes, but are nevertheless substantial for those involved.
Under the reform, all such claims will be processed in the Magistrates’ courts through a simple judiciary procedure, which emphasises (1) Speed, (2) Simplicity, (3) Efficiency, (4) Fairness, and (5) Economy of expense.
A special court at the Magistrates’ Court in Maseru, ‘Mokhorong oa Khotla’ (the Hut of Justice),has been set aside for hearing cases under the small claims procedure. Initially, these will take place from Tuesdays to Thursdays in the afternoons. This will be reviewed as necessary as the volume of cases increase.
There will be no need for lawyers in this new Procedure; the parties themselves will present their cases before the presiding officer or ‘referee’ of the court. Complex court documents and technical processes will be avoided. Instead these will be replaced by simple forms explaining the particulars of the claimant (e.g. name, address, nature and amount of the claim).
The debtor/respondent will likewise, respond by filling in a form explaining the situation (e.g. admitting the claim, denying the claim, or making a counter claim of his/her own). In all these, the Court Clerk will be available to assist the parties, free of charge.
There will be no high expenses involved in this new procedure. Filing fees for these cases have been reduced to only one half of the normal fees. Indeed, the court upon proof of a party’s financial hardship may waive even these discounted fees altogether.
When the file is ready, the Court Clerk fixes the day for hearing the case. The clerk ensures that he/she gives all the parties sufficient time to attend the court hearing. Witnesses may be called. However at this stage, the presiding officer emphasises two important objectives namely: (1) To explore a faster settlement of the dispute between the parties; and (2) To shorten the proceedings to the extent possible. Once the case takes off, postponements of the hearings will not be allowed – except for compelling reasons only (e.g. to allow the parties to negotiate the settlement out of court).
To simplify the mechanics of this new process even further, the court will apply a very simple procedure in hearing and determining these small claims. The plaintiff in person (without a lawyer) presents his/her case first in simple format; followed by the respondent in like manner. Witnesses of each party, if any, are then called; examined and cross-examined briefly. In all these, the court does not use strict rules of evidence. Rather, it takes into account all factors, including the power to control the type of evidence allowed; and the issues required. In this way, the parties themselves are empowered to state their own case, without the expense and complexity of having to rely on professional advocates.
This procedure has been tested in other jurisdictions, worldwide; and found to be fast, fair, effective and inexpensive. For the Judiciary, the new procedure will reduce the numbers of cases that must go through the grill of the ordinary court procedures – thus freeing the judges/magistrates to attend only to the more complicated cases in their dockets. Overall, the Judiciary’s case backlog (i.e. the number of outstanding cases) will be reduced significantly over time – thereby enabling the Courts to bring justice to the people of Lesotho in a more prompt manner, and encouraging the speedy resolution of disputes. Indeed, the slogan of the court is “O ka nketsang ha e ahe motse, motse ho ahoa oa morapeli Thesele." (In conflict there is disharmony, but in humility there is salvation.)
Over the next few weeks, the small claims procedure and the various steps involved will be looked at in more detail.Bookmark/Share