A new decision from Lesotho’s highest court has made some uncomfortable findings about the country’s Chief Justice, Sakoane Sakoane. Three judges from outside Lesotho, brought in to hear the matter to ensure there could be no allegations of partiality given those involved, found that the Director of Public Prosecutions was not unreasonable in her apprehension of bias on the part of the CJ. The judges also found he had wrongly ‘punished’ controversial advocate Shaun Abrahams, lead counsel in the trial over which the CJ was to preside, both by finding that he had acted improperly, and by imposing a punishment not prescribed by the law. The high-profile trial, involving charges of murder and treason, must now continue before another judge.
Two participants at a human rights training course for judges from 11 African countries, held in Cape Town mid-May, have first-hand experience of what making a bold human rights decision may sometimes demand. Judges Michael Tembo and Redson Kapindu were both on the bench, part of a five-judge panel in what they say was, without doubt, the most significant case in Malawi’s history. It was a case that left them physically shaken and traumatised, but all the wiser from the experience and more determined than ever to live up to the demands of their judicial oath of office. Pictured in their bulletproof vests are (left to right) Justice Dingiswayo Madise, Justice Ivy Kamanga, Justice Healey Potani, Justice Michael Tembo and Justice Redson Kapindu.
A new judgment from Eswatini’s high court effectively supports a decision by the registrar of companies who refused to register an association called Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities. Two judges of the three-court bench held that the registrar’s decision had been properly made. In a dissenting decision, the third judge approached the question very differently. He found that in terms of the law, the registrar of companies should have taken the decision whether to register the association, but that the ministry of commerce and industry made the decision instead. As this was a misuse of administrative power, the decision should be set aside and the registration of the association should be allowed. But there was a glimmer of light for Eswatini’s sexual minorities: despite its conclusion on the registration issue, the court’s majority wrote that members of the LGBTI community had ‘a right to life, liberty, privacy or dignity’ among other rights.
For many judges it will come as a relief to hear some good news for once, in the form of largely positive public perception about the judiciary and its role in society. The good news emerges from a just-published report on the state of the judiciary in Malawi, Namibia and South Africa. Every member of the bench in those three countries will be only too well aware of the short-comings of their own judicial system, exacerbated by the restrictions imposed by the Covid pandemic, among a number of other problems. But the three-part report by the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit of the University of Cape Town’s law school found generally positive views by court users about how judges in these jurisdictions are doing their work. Another key finding is that perceptions of corruption in the court are significantly lower in the closely-targeted court user surveys, than had been found in opinion surveys of the general public.
Two recent decisions from the courts in Zambia have serious implications for lawyers. In one, the appeal court rescued legal practitioners from a decision of the high court that found lawyers in private practice weren’t allowed to accept full-time employment. In the other, the appeal court had strong words for lawyers representing clients on trial for criminal offences: they should be sure that fee arrangements were recorded in writing and that there was genuine negotiation between the two sides over what would be charged.