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Zambian human rights lawyers support chief justice: ‘constitutional rights also apply to gay people’

A growing number of human rights lawyers in Zambia have come out in support of their country’s chief justice, Mumba Malila. He has caused consternation in some quarters because of his recent remarks, in response to a question on a public occasion, that gay people do not lose their humanity because of their sexuality. The lawyers say that the CJ was stating the current position on constitutional rights in Zambia, and that this is the basis on which ‘rights are celebrated and enjoyed everywhere else in the world.’

Tanzania’s high court continues ‘hands off’ approach to parliament, despite ‘inadequate’ timetable

Three judges of Tanzania’s high court have dismissed a petition to set aside an agreement between that country and Dubai over management of Tanzania’s ports. It’s a dispute that has strongly divided people in Tanzania, and the country’s authorities have detained or threatened at least 22 people who criticised the national assembly’s ratification of the plan, with a lawyer among three people now threatened with prosecution for treason, a crime that carries the death penalty. A second petition against the port management deal, based on similar grounds to the first, but brought by other parties, was struck out by the court last week on the basis that the matter had now been decided.

Appeals against inquiry findings by judges inquiring into Sierra Leone’s rampant corruption

Two recent judgments from Sierra Leone, delivered on the same day, though they produced different outcomes, remind readers of the role played by judges in that country who headed inquiries into allegations of corruption. The current appeals were brought by top officials who complained about the findings made against them by the judges who headed two inquiries. One inquiry dated from 2018 under Justice Bankole Thompson, and the other, set up in the same year, was presided over by Justice Biobele Georgewill from Nigeria as the chair and sole commissioner. Both had to examine the assets of top state officials from Sierra Leone between 2007 and 2018 to see whether these assets were acquired lawfully and whether the officials had a standard of living that was ‘commensurate to their official emoluments’. This was part of a major effort at the time to deal with corruption in Sierra Leone, a country that has consistently been listed as one of the most corrupt in the world.

Crucial African Court decision follows Ivory Coast environmental disaster

Judges and lawyers in increasing numbers of African countries are dealing with cases involving environmental or climate change issues. A significant new decision by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights will give those who work in these fields some important additional jurisprudence. The court was dealing with a case, sensational at the time, concerning a load of highly toxic waste, off loaded in Abidjan, Ivory Coast in 2006. After the waste was dumped in various sites around Abidjan, 17 people died from toxic gas inhalations, the health of an estimated 100 000 others were affected to various degrees, while environmental experts said there had also been severe groundwater contamination. The applicants, human rights organisations in Ivory Coast, asked the African court to find that rights were violated by the government, and to order a series of reparations. Though the government of Ivory Coast protested about the entire application, the court has now made a slew of findings about the state’s violation of rights in relation to the scandal and has issued several orders against the state. They include an order giving Ivory Coast a year to implement legislative reforms that will enforce a ban on the import and dumping of hazardous waste in compliance with the international conventions to which the state is a party.

New deal for awaiting trial prisoners in Namibia

Namibia’s highest court has delivered a judgment that could see a new era for awaiting trial prisoners in that country. Most fundamentally, it has struck down, as unconstitutional, the definition of the word ‘offender’ which had previously included awaiting trial prisoners. The court said that to call people ‘offenders’ when they hadn’t been convicted, struck at the heart of the constitutionally guaranteed presumption of innocence, because it suggested they had already been found guilty. The court also held certain other practices in relation to awaiting trial prisoners were unconstitutional.

Zambia’s constitutional court strongly backs judicial independence

Zambia’s constitutional court has found parliament in breach of the constitution by not passing legislation to ensure the full financial independence of the judiciary and that it is adequately funded. In a decision strongly underlining the principle of judicial independence, the court has ordered that until these laws have been passed and put into effect, the minister for finance should report to parliament every six months on what has been done to ensure financial independence of the judiciary. Ironically, the challenge was brought by Zambian counsel, John Sangwa. In March 2020, the chief court registrar informed all the country’s judges and magistrates that Sangwa was no longer allowed to appear in court because of a ‘malpractice complaint’ filed against him by the lawyers’ association of Zambia. This ‘complaint’ followed a ‘denunciation’ of Sangwa by several judges after Sangwa was critical of certain new judicial appointments. He had also criticised the government when the former president, Edgar Lungu, announced he would stand again for the presidency, even though, in Sangwa’s view, he was ineligible.

Church obtained land fraudulently, must give it back, with damages, court finds

A high-profile Ugandan church and one of its senior pastors have been found to have obtained land by fraud. The high court in Kampala, which made that finding, has ordered that the church must quit the land that was fraudulently obtained, while the plots must be returned and the official title and registration deeds changed to reflect that order. In addition, the church and the pastor must pay a damages bill of UGX50m plus interest and legal costs.

Time to rethink Zambia’s law on ‘insulting language’?

An outspoken Zambian magistrate has criticised the country’s law against the use of insulting language, saying some people saw mere criticism as insults, and that the law ‘when misapplied’ could result in an authoritarian and controlling society. It could cause ‘contemporary intolerance’ and ‘when not well prosecuted’, represented ‘an intense desire to gag uncomfortable voices of dissent’. He was giving judgment in a case where the accused was charged with naming someone as a witch and with using insulting language. The magistrate said it was the actions taken in consequence of a belief in witchcraft that are a problem, rather than the belief itself – but that this belief ‘has been deeply entrenched in the Zambian psyche’. He said it increasingly seemed that ‘old age is synonymous with being a witch in many communities in Zambia’, and that many elderly men and women were forced to leave their ancestral villages because of being labelled witches.

Bank not liable for loss after clerk, mandated to operate a client’s accounts, steals money

Should banks allow staff to be given mandates so that they may operate the accounts of customers? It’s a question that has to be asked in the wake of a new decision by Namibia’s supreme court. The apex court had to consider the bank’s liability for funds misappropriated by a clerk who had been given a mandate by a customer to operate the customer’s accounts.

Uganda’s anti-gay laws: what will East African Court of Justice say?

The lawfulness of Uganda’s ultra-punitive new legislation on homosexuality has been challenged by two applications filed at the East African Court of Justice. The first was filed in June by controversial Ugandan lawyer, Male Mabirizi. The second just made the court deadline when it was filed by a group of individuals and organisations. Both applications ask the court to declare the law null and void. The new challenge will argue that the principles of good governance were infringed because of an alleged absence of adequate public participation as well as bias and partiality on the part of the speaker of Uganda’s parliament. Further, these challengers say, enacting the law contravened the principles of good governance, including democracy, the rule of law, social justice, and the protection of human rights, in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights as well as provisions of the treaty that set up the East African Community.