Challenges to Judicial independence in Seychelles

WITH mounting international concern about the open conflict on the Seychelles judicial bench, a delegation of the Southern African Chief Justices’ Forum has visited the country and offered its help in resolving the situation. It has also volunteered its professional expertise with the legal reforms that are clearly needed in the Seychelles. 

WITH mounting international concern about the open conflict on the Seychelles judicial bench, a delegation of the Southern African Chief Justices’ Forum has visited the country and offered its help in resolving the situation. It has also volunteered its professional expertise with the legal reforms that are clearly needed in the Seychelles.

The forum is a voluntary association of chief justices from countries in East and Southern Africa, formed 15 years ago to promote a number of goals including contact between judiciaries in the region as well as support for the rule of law and the independence of the judiciaries in the region.

Among its members is the Seychelles and, in the light of what the forum described as the “recent developments” concerning the country’s judiciary, the chair of the forum, Namibia’s chief justice Hon. Peter Shivute and the forum’s deputy, Malawi’s chief justice Hon. Andrew Nyirenda, were invited by the judicial leaders of the Seychelles for a fact-finding mission. They were supported by a team of technical persons including Dr. Justice Alfred Mavedzenge and Mr. Everisto Pengele.

No details of the problems in the Seychelles were spelled out in the statement issued at the end of the visit, although the forum has undertaken “in due course” to produce a report with its findings and recommendations. 

The statement however mentioned “two pending disciplinary matters” concerning members of the judiciary in the Seychelles.

For the benefit of readers who may not be familiar with the situation in the Seychelles, Jifa provides some background: 

One of these disciplinary matters relates to a senior judge whose behaviour in relation to several matters he handled on the bench has been strongly criticized in an appeal judgment by his peers. In October 2016 the chief justice of the Seychelles also made a formal complaint against him to the constitutional appointments authority (the CAA) – the body tasked with recommending appointments and removals from the judiciary – and her complaints included a number of allegations of misconduct.

A tribunal was set up by the CAA to inquiry into the judge’s behaviour and the tribunal recommended his suspension. Following post-election political changes in the country, however, changes were also made to the CAA, and the new body objected to the establishment and recommendations of the tribunal. The CAA is a body of five members who are directly appointed by politicians. The tribunal continued its work, regardless, and in August 2017 recommended the judge be removed for misbehavior. While the president is constitutionally obliged to remove a judge under these circumstances, the president has not done so because there is a constitutional challenge against the validity of the tribunal’s proceedings.

In the meantime, the newly-constituted CAA appears to have aligned itself with the suspended judge, and has noted a number of complaints against the chief justice.

Then, earlier this year, the CAA wrote to the chief justice giving her notice of its decision to set up a tribunal to inquire into whether she should be removed from office.

This threat to the chief justice, coupled with criticism of the new CAA for not being an impartial body and the lack of presidential action to remove the judge whose dismissal was recommended 10 months ago, has left the judiciary in the Seychelles divided, at the same time threatening judicial independence and the rule of law.

It was against this background that the delegation from the chief justices’ forum urged that the disciplinary matters concerning members of the Seychelles judiciary should be handled “fairly, speedily and in accordance with the principles of natural justice and due process” and in a way that preserves the independence, integrity and dignity of the courts.”


In this article:

Exit Statement of the SACJF Fact Finding Mission in Seychelles