LesLII Launch: Speech by His Lordship, the Hon. Mr Justice Lehohla, Chief Justice of the Kingdom of Lesotho

 

Speech by His Lordship, the Hon. Mr Justice Lehohla, Chief Justice of the Kingdom of Lesotho at the launch and training workshop of the Lesotho Legal Information Institute (LesothoLII) at Lesotho Sun

27 September, 2011

His Majesty the King

The Right Honourable The Prime Minister

The Honourable Minister of Justice

Honourable Judges

Hon. Chief of Party Mr. Justice Ogoola (ILI ACLE) & His Entourage

Honourable Attorney-General

The Leader of the Delegation AFRICANLII Mr. Mafukidze & His Entourage

The Principal Secretary for Justice et al

The Registrar of the High Court and Court of Appeal

The Chief Magistrates

Learned Magistrates

Dean of the Law Faculty

Members of the Legal Profession

Ladies & Gentlemen

 

It is a pleasure for me to address you this morning. This is an occasion to us to celebrate the birth of a new tool that will, hopefully, change the way we have been delivering justice in a profound way. We are here for a training workshop and launch of the Lesotho Legal Information Institute (LesothoLII). LesothoLII is an internet based law reporting facility that has been created by the African Legal Information Institute (AfricanLII) working with the Judiciary and with the involvement of various stakeholders in the legal sector. I want to thank you very much for all your assistance and interest.

 

The essence of this new development is that, commencing shortly, Lesotho will be able to publish its own judgments, legislation, bills, government gazettes, inquiry reports, green and white papers, cause lists and a lot of other legal information for free access by the broader members of our community. This welcome development means that we are now empowered to collect and publish, unhindered, a myriad of legal information. This project intends to empower us to do it for ourselves. We will no longer rely on others reporting for us. This means that the material will easily be up to date, comprehensive and relevant to our own circumstances.

 

The creation of a freely accessible legal information facility in Lesotho has been one of my major targets. As you will all know, I am a member of the Southern African Chief Justices Forum (SACJF). The Forum has as one of its important goals, the sharing of legal information amongst member jurisdictions. We created this objective out of the realisation that it was easier to get access to judgments and legal material from Western sources, while it was a lot harder to have access to decisions of jurisdictions with which we share similar experiences. This sad state of affairs inevitably leads us to import legal philosophies that may not have tested in jurisdictions that we have a lot in common with.

 

My brother Chief Justices (there are no female Chief Justices in our Region!), therefore supported the creation of the Southern African Legal Information Institute (SAFLII). However, SAFLII collects material from some 16 countries. Inevitably, it means that the collection is not always up to date owing to collection challenges. In addition, funding at a regional level has proven quite a challenge. It was always the idea that at some point, every jurisdiction would create its own law reporting facility. The African Legal Information Institute (AfricanLII), who are our partners in this initiative have therefore been the force behind the creation of national law reporting facilities across the continent. Their work has therefore benefited us through the creation of our own facility. I would like to express our gratitude to them and to their funding partners.

 

The necessity of this initiative in this Kingdom is beyond debate. Our country has suffered from a dearth of law reports. Our law reports are not up to date. In fact, in the days that we published law reports, these covered several years. The result was that reported decisions would only be available years after the decisions were made. This is clearly unhealthy for any legal system. It makes it difficult for precedent to take root. It means that lower courts will struggle to know what new law has been developed by courts of record. You can imagine the challenges this has had on the delivery of justice in general and the development of our law.

 

I welcome this tremendous development as it will enhance the quality of justice, service deliver by our courts, the quality of counsel's preparation and teaching of the law. A country with a clear legal system, able to resolve disputes expeditiously and at a cheaper cost will attract investment. This can only be wonderful news for the Basotho nation!

 

While this project has been donor-funded, it would be remiss of me not to draw your attention to the need for us to sustain it. We have to harness our collective resources and energy for this project to be successful. This means that all role players in the legal sector have to come together and find innovative ways in which this facility is sustained. It will not cost a fortune, and being an information technology tool, neither will it require many hands. But its success depends on our collective effort. As Chief Justice, allow me to invite you to support LesothoLII.

 

The success of LesothoLII requires that we:

  • Collect judgments and publish them as soon as they are delivered

  • Publish legislation

  • Use the facility as our central reference point

  • Change some of the ways in which we have done business

 

Let me expand on the change mentality we have to adopt, especially for my fellow judges.

  • The delivery of judgments has to take place at a quicker pace.

  • Secondly, the judgments have to be available to LesothoLII immediately.

  • We have to adopt and use in court new references that are based on our information technology repositories.

  • We have to have standards for the preparation of judgments.

  • We have to be sensitive to what personal information we put in judgments.

  • We have to create a new method through which we keep a register of each and every decision delivered by our courts. A comprehensive and complete collection increases use of the website and its reliability. We should not hear of court judgments by rumour.

 

As for teachers of law, the biggest challenge is to produce new lawyers who are at ease with technology. The world is changing. We need lawyers who are able to carry out complex research in the shortest possible time. We must not fear technology, but embrace it. It is cheaper and a more effective way of sharing. Libraries of hard copy books cannot allow 100 people to read the same page at the same time. But technology now allows millions to be reading the same thing without leaving their desks. This is the new world we must embrace.

 

As for the learned members of the legal profession, the days of spending hours looking for our court decisions must surely come to an end. A profession that charges per hour should not unduly mulct innocent, poor litigants with high bills incurred as a result of archaic methods of research. While sitting on your desk, you are today able to find free facilities that provide you with millions of court precedents: from Australia to the United States, from Ireland to Uganda, from our King of Lesotho to Sierra Leone! This is the pleasure of search tools that do not require practitioners to prod through countless books to find an answer.

 

Esteemed colleagues, I would like to draw your attention to the revival of legislation intended to reconstitute the Law Reporting Committee of Lesotho. The Minister of Justice has given her support for the reintroduction of this bill in Parliament. This enactment will make it easier for law reporting to operate as an effective tool to support the administration of justice. This law reporting committee will naturally play a critical role in supporting LesothoLII and its development into an efficient disseminator of legal information.

 

I recognize the presence of the Chief of Party the Honourable Mr. Justice Ogoola who and his staff have been on the cutting edge of far reaching transformation process of the Judiciary in this Kingdom. Even in their absence the Freedom House representatives Mrs. Lisa Davis of the United States and Mr. Karl Beck of South Africa who visited us and invigorated our efforts to transform are worthy of mention also. They conducted hasty but fruitful meetings for Judges and for the Law Society thus sowing seed that has resulted in the luxuriant growth of a plant that should redound to plentiful harvest, hopefully given that they have joined forces with Mr. Mafukidze's organization whose competence is a by-word in the SACJF's Forum.

 

I would like to express my profound gratitude for your presence here today. I want to wish you fruitful discussions as we launch LesothoLII and learn how we can make the most of this development. I would like to thank our partners, African Legal Information Institute and the Freedom House for considering us worthy partners in this endeavour.

 

I thank you.