The supreme court of Kenya has delivered a significant judgment on the right to shelter. It involved people who had been living in two informal settlements since the 1960s, when it was effectively public land. In 2013, they were forcibly evicted by a private entity, the Moi Educational Centre, with the help of the state via the police and others. The high court found in favour of the people who were evicted, saying there was an ‘unapologetic admission’ by the Moi Centre that it had evicted the people and had their homes demolished, all without a court order. The high court ruled that fundamental rights were indeed violated, and awarded damages to the petitioners. Much of this was set aside on appeal, and the petitioners then approached the supreme court for its view. The five supreme court justices unanimously ruled that the petitioners’ rights were infringed by the Moi Centre, the police and other arms of government, and affirmed the original high court finding as well as an award of damages.
Two judges of the high court in Kenya were questioned and their chambers searched last week, sparking widespread concern about whether this was a symptom of worsening relations between the judiciary and the executive. After the arrests – detectives now dispute that the judges were in fact ‘arrested’ – and questioning for several hours, the judges were released. Their lawyers said afterwards that the judges’ chambers had been searched, apparently for money that might have been evidence of bribery, but that nothing had been found. This week, however, the directorate of criminal investigations (DCI) claimed it had seized Ksh6million in the search. At this stage the situation is still confused – and confusing. But a useful article gives some guidance as to how the police ought to approach the question of arresting a judge and searching his or her chambers.
One of the legally most distressing cases ever to be argued in the courts of Zambia has reached a crucial point: the scandalous matter of a senior advocate suing a high court judge with allegations that his constitutional rights had been infringed by the judge, has now been considered by the country’s highest court. The supreme court has ordered that the matter be properly heard in the high court, but with the judge no longer named as respondent. This part of the decision followed a reaffirmation by the court of the principle that judges cannot be sued in their personal capacity. But the three supreme court judges also used the opportunity to chastise the judge concerned for his behaviour, saying that to call his behaviour ‘unacceptable’ would be an ‘understatement’. And they then went on to change the court rules to prevent such behaviour in the future. The dispute originally started when the judge did not announce a time for handing down his original decision and left counsel waiting, as the client’s costs escalated, until an 11pm delivery.
Zimbabwe’s supreme court has confirmed that the country has no justiciable right to shelter, saying reference to shelter in the constitution was ‘essentially hortatory in nature’, operating merely as a kind of reminder or guideline to government in formulating policy. Given that shelter and housing is a major issue in Zimbabwe, this is an important decision that, along with the particular reasoning of the court, will impact on how human rights lawyers handle cases raising such issues in future.
Kenya’s supreme court has given special directions in relation to follow-up of its landmark 2017 decision in relation to the mandatory death penalty. At a special sitting of the court, its members questioned a number of court decisions delivered in the wake of the watershed case of Francis Muruatetu and said that the confusion that had arisen needed to be resolved. The special sitting also made clear that the national assembly, along with the senate, the attorney general and the Kenya law reform commission, had not met the court’s deadline to propose a new framework for such cases.