Thanks to the determined efforts of the women involved, no fewer than three recent decisions in Malawi have dealt with sexual assault, harassment or rape under extremely troubling circumstances. The trio of cases will surely act as a boost to awareness of women’s constitutional rights in Malawi, to add pressure on the police to investigate and on employers to act in cases of workplace sexual harassment.
The search for Kenya’s new chief justice has reached a crucial point: an intensive fortnight of candidate interviews by the judicial service commission. But the battle over the future of the jurist leading the search, Kenya’s acting chief justice, Philomena Mwilu, is continuing in parallel. Most recently, the high court judge set to hear a petition that Justice Mwilu be removed as acting CJ and deputy CJ among other positions, because of graft allegations against her, has announced he will recuse himself. In his written decision on the question, the high court judge, Patrick Otieno, explained his recusal: given the line taken by Justice Mwilu’s counsel in the matter, he would be seen to have been ‘intimidated’ if he found for one side, or to have been ‘propelled by vengeance’ if he found for the other, he said. The judge further castigated counsel for the DCJ for making ‘preposterous accusations’ against him and for the ‘intensity of insolence’ he experienced from counsel in the case.
Is a sitting judge allowed to take a job as head of his or her country’s prosecution services? And if a court finds that it was unconstitutional for the judge to accept the second position, what is the status of the judge’s decisions as a prosecutor? These, and difficult, related questions, have been raised in Uganda, where a series of judges have been appointed to other government jobs, without first resigning from the bench. The initial answers to the questions around the DPP job were decided in a constitutional petition last month: it’s unconstitutional, the court said, and from now on decisions by any judge who takes another government position without first resigning as a judge, will be invalid. Faced with an uproar from the prosecution services, however, the supreme court, the country’s apex forum, is to reconsider the question.
The women of Malawi had barely time to digest a landmark high court judgment ordering a company to pay ‘aggravated damages’ in a workplace sexual harassment matter, when a second, similar, high profile matter hit the news. This time it was a report from the Malawi Human Rights Commission which found the CEO of the country’s broadcasting corporation had sexually harassed women on the staff and recommended tough measures in response.
The women of Malawi have been handed a legal victory that will stand them in good stead when faced with sexual harassment and assault at the workplace. It involves a woman working as a time-keeper for construction company Mota-Engil, who went to court over her experience of sexual harassment. She claimed that because her employers did nothing about her complaints, and thus allowed the situation to continue, Mota-Engil was liable to pay ‘aggravated damages’ to her. During the trial it emerged that the company did not have a proper system in place in terms of which action would be taken immediately that a sexual harassment claim was made.