Jifa newsletter “essential reading”: judge trainer

This week’s Core Skills course offered by the Judicial Institute for Africa brought a new group of judges together from all over the continent. Even the faculty teaching the course had some new faces, one of them being Judge Sanji Monageng, who was once a magistrate in Botswana, as well as a judge in The Gambia and on the International Criminal Court among other judicial positions. Jifa’s Newsletter chatted to her briefly about her experience over the week of training and about the newsletter itself – and discovered she regards the weekly newsletter as “essential reading”.

From her many years as a judicial officer – a magistrate, a high court judge at national level and many more years as a judge at the international level – you might think that former Botswana judge, Sanji Monageng has little left to learn. But you would be wrong. If there is one thing that struck her during the Jifa Core Skills training week it was this: every teaching experience is an opportunity to learn, and this week was no exception.

Reflecting on this, her first opportunity to participate in a Jifa training course, she said she had felt “honoured and empowered”. The structure of the course allowed her, in the sessions she facilitated, to offer members of the training course access to some of the range of all she had learned through her professional experiences.

“I felt I could share this richness with everyone here.”

“It was awesome to listen to the judges attending the workshop and see how much development there has been in the judiciary. I liked the confidence that I witnessed. It was a good feeling to see how serious they all are about this training, and that they are such a participative group. They all came here to learn and they were enjoying that experience.”

Judge Monageng said that in the sessions where participants were offered one-on-one feedback on a particular judgment, she was impressed by how quickly those with whom she worked had seen how their judgment writing could be improved, using the techniques discussed during the week.

“You could see them gradually relaxing as we discussed their decision and as we worked on how the techniques learned in the training could have been applied.

“Many said that if they had known at the time they wrote the decision, what they had learned this week, their judgments would have been different – not in the outcome, but in the presentation and the structure of the decision, following on this training.”

“It was a very serious learning experience for me, myself, as well,” she added.

Judge Monageng also has strong views about the Jifa Newsletter. She said that she had noticed a great change in the newsletter over the last year and appreciated the “high quality of the stories about judgments”. It had now become part of her “essential reading” each week, she said.

She had not needed to use the material for her work as she had been part of the International Criminal Court for last nine years, “but when I found an interesting case I brought it to the attention of my colleagues and judges at the domestic level, to point out the decision in case they could use it.”

Many southern African countries allowed the use of decisions from other jurisdictions, regarding them as possibly “persuasive”, but in addition to the question whether the decisions might be useful professionally, she also found them “personally educative”, allowing her to be far more aware of what is happening in the region.

“I would encourage all the new readers, signed up after this week’s training course, to read it, and use it, not only as judicial news but also as a source of education that they will certainly find helpful.”

What about Jifa’s aim at helping create a supportive network for judges spread across the region, through keeping them aware of the struggles, challenges and successes of their colleagues in other countries? “That is so necessary,” she said. “Many judges would otherwise feel quite isolated.”

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