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‘No justification for the unjustifiable’: Lesotho’s ombud slams grand-scale torture, assault in Maseru prison

Lesotho’s national ombud, Tlotliso Angelina Polaki, has issued a scathing report on massive-scale torture and assaults that took place in Maseru’s central correctional institution during December 2023, leaving about 95% of the inmates of the prison injured, one dead and one who is now wheelchair-bound and will never walk again.

Major court decision on image rights benefits Ugandan soccer players

Members of Uganda’s national soccer team from the period around 2007/8 have just been awarded a payout against MTN Uganda by the commercial court. The telecom giant had a year-long contract with Proline, the players’ originating development soccer club, allowing it to use the players’ images for advertising. But MTN had continued to use their images even after that contract expired on the basis that it had a sponsorship agreement with Fufa, soccer’s governing body in Uganda. The players then challenged MTN in court, through Proline, and have now won a significant damages award. But the judgment exposed some serious flaws in the way that Fufa has approached the question of using the image rights of its senior players, and the court commented that this is a ‘case study’ for why Fufa needs to sort out its contractual arrangements with senior players.

Executive interference in Ugandan court decisions continues – this time by the justice minister

Uganda’s minister of justice, Norbert Mao, has taken a leaf straight from the book of the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni. This week, the minister wrote to the principal judge of the Ugandan high court, asking that the judge directly intervene in a matter that has been brought to his attention by an MP on behalf of a constituent. Mao asked for the ‘immediate administrative intervention’ in the matter by the principal judge. Earlier this year, Museveni wrote a similar letter to the chief justice of Uganda, also requesting intervention in a matter, and the CJ later indicated that this was not the first time it had happened.

Is rape by family members treated too lightly by the law?

The high court has sent the case of a Malawian teenager, charged with raping his 89-year-old grandmother, back to the magistrate’s court for a possible re-trial because the court had wrongly prosecuted a case of rape instead of incest. If convicted in a re-trial, however, Malawi’s incest law could see the accused sentenced to a mere five years. Malawi’s penal code provides for a significant difference between the sentence to be imposed when a man rapes a close family member, and in a case where the two are not related. When they are unrelated, the code provides that a rape offender ‘shall be liable to be punished with death or with imprisonment for life’ (However, Malawi has had what amounts to a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty since 1992.) By contrast, ‘incest by males’, is categorised in the code as a ‘felony’, and anyone convicted ‘shall be liable for imprisonment for five years’. There is an exception: if it is proved ‘that the female person is under the age of 16, the offender shall be liable to imprisonment for life’.

Prominent SA advocates lose battle over conviction in Namibian courts for working without a permit, misleading immigration officials

Two prominent South African advocates have just lost their last hope of squashing  their convictions in the Namibian courts. Johannesburg advocates, Mike Hellens SC and Dawie Joubert SC, had been found guilty on two counts, first, working as legal practitioners without an employment permit, and second, giving false or misleading information to immigration officers when they entered the country in 2019. Though they had gone to Namibia to appear in court in a bail application, they told the immigration officials they were there for a ‘visit’ and for a ‘meeting’. Both appealed against their conviction but they had also asked for a judicial review of the decision. In the high court they lost their appeal but won on the review. The outcome in both matters were taken to the apex supreme court for a final word. In December 2023, they lost their appeal at the supreme court. What would that same court say when the state appealed against the review finding? The supreme court has now given its answer: it found the review, that had favoured Hellens and Joubert, was wrongly decided, and set it aside, awarding costs against the two advocates in both the high court and the supreme court.

Are the courts out of touch with the ordinary, and often poor, people they serve?

This is a question that readers can’t help asking, based on a contempt of court conviction and sentence by the magistrate’s court in Namibia. The case raises concerns about a lack of sensitivity and awareness of that court to the daily difficulties of poor people it serves. The accused in the case, Festus Shimmy, was sent to prison for three months because he wore ‘short pants’ to a court hearing and the magistrate convicted him of contempt of court for doing so. Explaining his attire, Shimmy told the court that his long trousers were very dirty and so he had worn the shorts. To make matters worse, his case was not sent to the high court on review ‘without delay’, as the law requires in contempt of court matters, but only arrived for review well after the three-month sentence had expired. This meant that even though the high court set aside his conviction and sentence, this came too late for Shimmy. Further, the high court pointed out that the magistrate imposed a fine of N$500, though the law clearly states the maximum is N$100.

Where officials, authorised to take decisions themselves, instead insist on unnecessary litigation before overcrowded courts, they could face costs orders – judge

Faced with growing court backlogs, judges around the world are looking for new ways to reduce delays experienced by litigants. A new decision from Canada shows a judge warning that he would have been willing to order costs against officials who could have resolved a problem themselves, but who instead insisted that the court should do so.

Uganda’s president chastises chief justice over litigation outcome, orders action to rectify matters: profession divided over response

It took time to get going, but a letter by Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni (pictured) to the country’s chief justice has sparked a row that shows no sign of blowing over. The letter complained about a court decision and urged that the CJ should take action in the wake of that decision. The letter, written in December 2023, dealt with a visit to Museveni by one of the parties to a court case, and castigated the CJ for the decision taken by a member of the judiciary in relation to the case. Though there was initially no public reaction from the CJ, the judiciary and other members of the profession, the matter blew up more than a month later, in a way that adds to growing concern about the health of judicial independence in Uganda.

Kenya’s judicial leaders issue strong re-statement of judicial independence

Judicial independence in Kenya has been under some serious threats recently, particularly from the president, William Ruto, and other members of government. Threats to judicial independence are a problem in other countries as well and the judiciary sometimes seems to take refuge in silence on this issue. However, this week, following a consultative meeting involving the heads of all the country’s courts, Kenya’s top judges issued a wide-ranging statement, dealing with judicial independence, as well as claims of corruption in the judiciary, and ways in which the courts could improve to offer a better service to the public.

Changes needed on how Zim police deal with vernacular witness statements – court

A controversial Zimbabwean high court judge, Munamato Mutevedzi, has strongly criticised the way police handle statements by potential witnesses. In a recent judgment, Mutevedzi discussed what he said was a matter of concern arising from ‘many criminal trials handled in the courts’.  He said witnesses would make statements in the vernacular. These were then translated into English by the police, with the witness signing the English version, even though he or she had no idea of what the English statement said or meant. This was a ‘misrepresentation’ that could amount to an ‘illegality’, Mutevedzi said. Sometimes, the police even signed the statement themselves, purporting to be the witness. He said the frequency with which witnesses came to court and claimed ‘misrepresentations’ of their statements to the police, had convinced the courts that ‘something untoward’ was happening during the recording of statements. Among his suggestions for dealing with the problem, Mutevedzi urged that police keep the original vernacular statements by witnesses, and that statements in the vernacular be translated by certified translators or interpreters.