Lesotho is a beautiful, mountainous, landlocked country completely surrounded by South Africa. It is a sovereign democratic kingdom, with the king as the head of state and executive power in the hands of the government led by the Prime Minister.Lesotho is a former colony of the United Kingdom known as Basutoland. The Basotho nation was founded by the Great Moshoeshoe who later sought for protection from the British. Consequently, Basutoland became an English colony and Roman Dutch Law was infused into the legal system. Wars of independence were later fought and Basutoland gained its independence from Britain and became the Kingdom of Lesotho in 1966.
In the most recent elections in 2007, the governing Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party retained a majority of seats in parliament.
1.2 Geography, religion, languages and culture
Lesotho is often referred to as "The Kingdom in the Sky" or "The Switzerland of Southern Africa" because of the stark beauty of its rugged mountainous terrain.The country can be roughly divided into three geographic regions: The lowlands, following the southern banks of the Caledon River, and in the Senqu river valley; the highlands formed by the Drakensberg and Maloti mountain ranges in the east and central parts of the country; and the foothills that form a divide between the lowlands and the highlands.
The population of Lesotho, in 1998, was estimated to be 2,089,289 with a growth rate of 1.9 percent. At the end of the twentieth century these figures could alter rapidly as the HIV/AIDS crisis impacts the general population. The people of Lesotho are called Basotho (plural) and Mosotho (singular). The culture is cohesive, with Basotho comprising over 99 percent of the country's population, the remainder being of Asian of European origin.
Sesotho, or Southern Sotho, is spoken in Lesotho as well as in parts of South Africa. Sesotho was one of the first African languages to develop a written form and it has an extensive literature. English is the second official language, dating back to 1868 when Lesotho was placed under the British for protection against South African aggression. Zulu and Xhosa are spoken by a small minority.
1.3 Type of legal system
Lesotho’s legal system is in effect a constitutional monarchy. It is based on a combination of Roman Dutch, English Common and traditional customary law.
The constitution provides for an independent judicial system, made up of the High Court, the Court of Appeal, Magistrate's Courts, customary courts (that exist predominantly in rural areas) and a Judicial Services Commission (JSC). There is no trial by jury; rather, judges make rulings alone, or, in the case of criminal trials, with two other judges as observers. The constitution also protects basic civil liberties, including freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of religion.
The High Court has jurisdiction to hear the most serious civil and criminal cases, and appeals from the lower courts. It has supervisory jurisdiction over all the courts in Lesotho. It consists of the Chief Justice, who is appointed by the chief of state on the advice of the prime minister, and a number of puisne judges, appointed by the chief of state on the advice of the JSC. Appeals from the High Court come before the Court of Appeal, which meets twice a year.
This is a traditional system comprised of the numerous customs of the Basotho. It is recorded and codified (the Laws of Lerotholi)and some of it has been interpreted and acted upon by the courts thus incorporating it into to the formal legal system.Customary law in Lesotho is administered by Basotho or Customary courts.
The majority of Justices on the Court of Appeal are South African jurists. The court does not operate by trial by jury. Rather, judges make rulings alone, or in criminal trials with 2 other judges as observers.
There are magistrates’ courts in each of the 10 districts, and more than 70 central and local courts. General laws in Lesotho operate alongside customary laws. Whether customary or general law will be applied in a case is generally determined by the nature of the case, criminal or civil, and the people involved. It is usual for common law to be implemented in urban areas, whilst customary law is more often found in rural areas.
Local courts, or Basotho Courts, are the courts of first instance for any matter involving customary law. Appeals from local courts come before the central courts, and appeals from the central or local courts come before the judicial commissioners’ courts, from which further appeals may be made to the High Court. Lesotho has not accepted compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction.
2. The legal aid situation in the country
2.1 State Sponsored legal aid
The Constitution of Lesotho is silent on the right to legal aid however Section 12 of the Constitution provides the right to a fair trial which includes amongst others, the right to legal representation. Although not constitutionally regulated, Lesotho does offer legal aid in both civil and criminal matters. A legal aid board was established by the Legal Aid Act No. 19 of 1978 with the mandate to make provision for the granting of legal aid to the poor persons and for connected purposes. The Act was followed by the Legal Aid Regulations 1979. It is reported that there have been challenges with the provision of National Legal Aid – including a backlog of cases. To address this challenge, the Legal Aid Counsel sometimes briefs private lawyers to handle cases referred to legal aid and the fees are paid by the Legal Aid.
2.2 NGOs providing pro bono legal aid
- Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA)Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA)
Its mandate is limited to providing advice and information on women and children’s rights so that they can achieve social justice. Current work especially focuses on property or land claims, domestic abuse, women’s empowerment and children’s rights.
- Women and Law in Southern Africa Trust(WLSA) http://www.womenandlaw.org.ls/ • http://www.womenandlaw.org.ls/
Is an organization that strives for the realization of women’s rights which were ignored for a long time. Its mission is to promote and protect women's human rights in socio- economic, legal and political context through active research, lobby and advocacy on policy and legal reform that discriminate against women and children, training and education on laws and policies that advance women's human rights.
- http://www.commonwealthofnations.org/country/lesotho/Accessed 30th November 2017 10.00pm
- Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
- http://www.nyulawglobal.org/globalex/Lesotho.html#_Civil_and_criminalAccessed 3rdDecember 2017 08.32am
- https://fidalesotho.wordpress.com/Accessed 3rd December 2017 09.40am
- http://www.womenandlaw.org.ls/services.htmlAccessed 3rd December 2017 10.00am