When a Tanzanian court clerk appealed against his conviction and sentence for corruptly demanding payments from a would-be litigant at court, he did not realise that his faulty sums would help confirm his guilt. What Judge Amour Khamis would later describe as ‘unstable arithmetic’ convinced the court that there was no truth in the explanation given for the payments and that conviction and sentence should be confirmed.
No-one seems to have warned the accused in this case that faulty arithmetical calculations might actually help prove commission of a crime. For Jackson Mrefu it was a slip that was fatal to his case. It lost him his appeal against four counts of corrupt transactions, contravening Tanzania’s Prevention and Combating of Corruption Act.
Mrefu was a principal office assistant - a court clerk - employed by ‘the judiciary’ of Tanzania and stationed at Mwandiga Primary Court. According to the charges against him, he had asked for and received money from Imelda Dosha over several days, ‘as an inducement’ to open a civil case.
Dosha and a relative who came to the court to support her in opening a case, wanted to sue a woman who, in her view, had taken up with Dosha’s husband. (The husband claimed the woman was his second wife.) The court would later find that Mrefu made out to Dosha that the money he demanded from her was actually to ensure that the court magistrate would give a favourable decision.
It was common cause that one of the amounts - Tshs 11 000 - was paid by Dosha to Mrefu, but the question was, what was it for? Dosha and her relative said it was the final instalment of Tshs 170 000 demanded by Mrefu to file the civil case against Dosha’s rival in the adultery claim she wanted to bring. Dosha had already paid the rest.
Mrefu, on the other hand, said it was part of the reimbursement due to him by Dosha for his transport costs in serving a summons on the woman Dosha wanted to sue.
The judge hearing the appeal in this case, Amour Khamis, said it was true that non-service of a summons in a civil suit hampered the speedy disposal of matters. It was also true that the magistrate court’s rules did not spell out ‘who is to effect such service of the summons’.
One of the duties of a court clerk like Mrefu, was to help claimants set out their claims properly. But if such a clerk ‘goes an extra mile’ to help a litigant by serving a summons, this was done ‘as an employee of the judiciary and on behalf of the judiciary’, the judge said.
A court clerk then could not be considered to be acting ‘as an agent of a litigant’. Thus, in this case, Mrefu had to have been acting ‘as an employee of the judiciary and not as an agent of (Dosha).’
He could in any case only have served summons with the ‘express permission’ of the magistrate in charge. But no permission was requested or granted. Under these circumstances, he was not authorised to receive any money from Dosha for transport or anything else related to serving a summons.
Clearly, said the judge, the real purpose of the money paid by Dosha was, as she thought, to ‘sweeten’ Mrefu so that he would help with the case against her rival – and not to reimburse the clerk for his transport costs.
Evidence given during the trial showed how Mrefu had agreed to help Dosha and her relative in return for payments for the magistrate.
The magistrate herself, who gave evidence in the trial, said that her court ‘did not accept cash payments as filing fees and that demands for money by court officers in order to file a case (were) an abnormality.’
‘I am further perturbed by the unstable arithmetic’ used by Mrefu to explain his costs, said the judge.
Even if Mrefu had been entitled to reimbursement for his transport costs, the amount that he said he spent on fares was more than the Tshs 11 000 given him by Dosha. He had not explained ‘this monetary difference’ nor demanded the balance from Dosha, factors that made his story ‘mind boggling’.
Records showed that Dosha’s initial efforts to meet the magistrate ‘were unjustifiably blocked’ by Mrefu who told her that she could only be seen after Dosha had fully paid up the Tshs 170 000 required.
Dosha claimed that Mrefu made her believe that the magistrate was ‘an accomplice’ – hence the payments required – and so when her case was dismissed she treated it personally and lodged a grievance with the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau.
In all the circumstances, there was no merit in the appeal and it had to be dismissed, said the judge.