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Top court of Seychelles delivers major environmental law decision on state responsibility for pollution cleanup

An environmental law decision by the highest court in Seychelles has found that the state has a constitutional responsibility to clean up pollution of public places like rivers and beaches and that it might be liable for damages in some cases. The decision, likely to be hugely influential, was delivered by the court of appeal in response to a claim by private applicants that the state had not acted to deal with the serious E.coli pollution of a river. While the state argued that it was not constitutionally obliged to act in such a case, the court of appeal has declared that it does indeed have such an obligation, and that failure to act could lead to claims for damages.

Misreporting could add to tensions between judiciary, executive in Kenya

A recent high court decision in Kenya about the government’s failure to make a decision on whether to grant a citizenship application, has been incorrectly reported in some of the media in that country. The case concerned a man who lost his Kenyan citizenship when he took UK citizenship as a child. Now that the law has changed to allow dual citizenship he has applied for Kenyan citizenship. But after sitting with the matter for five years, the authorities have still not made their decision. The court held it did not have power itself to grant citizenship to the applicant, but gave the authorities six months to make their decision and inform the applicant of the outcome. However, reports in the media say the court ordered the grant of citizenship. It’s a serious mistake, particularly at this time when dangerous tension exists between Kenya’s judicial and executive arms.

WhatsApp message exchange constitutes a valid contract – Ugandan court

A new judgment from the commercial division of the high court in Uganda has held that an exchange on WhatsApp amounted to a binding contract. In this case, the contract was concluded between a surgeon and a hospital that had called him in to carry out two operations. The court held that their WhatsApp exchange amounted to an offer made and accepted, and that the hospital and its director were liable for the unpaid bills for the operations and follow-up visits and services.

Outcry in Uganda over early release of prisoners convicted of defilement

More than a dozen organisations concerned with the rights of women and children in Uganda have expressed dissatisfaction and concern about the decision to pardon and release 13 convicted prisoners. Their concern was based on the fact that 11 of those released were serving sentences for defilement (child rape), and the organisations questioned the commitment of the authorities to protecting girls and women from rape and sexual assault. They have urged more transparency around such decisions in the future and want the current list of pardoned convicts to be reviewed.

Where should a country’s leader sleep at night?

Should Zambia’s president live in his own home? It’s a question that was raised in the constitutional court recently by Sean Tembo, head of a Zambian opposition party. The seven judges of that court had been asked by Tembo to find that the country’s president, Hakainde Hichilema, should have been living in state house instead of his own home. Tembo cited the cost and inconvenience to the public of the daily presidential cavalcade from his private home to his offices in state house, and asked the court to find that the expense was unjustified and unconstitutional.

Inaugural meeting and conference of African Network of Judicial Trainers

The work of the Judicial Institute for Africa (Jifa) and the African Legal Information Institute (AfricanLII) was showcased at this week’s inaugural three-day AGM and conference of the African Network of Judicial Trainers (ANJT), held in Zanzibar. A number of important projects were launched or unveiled at the event, including an inaugural project to draw up a shared ethics manual on judicial training for trainers.

Traditional healer dupes woman into quitting her home; supreme court comes to the rescue

A desperate woman who says she was duped by a local Namibian traditional healer into selling him her house at a small fraction of its true value, has been helped by the supreme court to keep her case alive. Elizabeth Neis, a retired nurse, consulted the healer because she had landed in financial trouble. He agreed to help her, but told her that her house was inhabited by evil spirits who would cause the death of someone from her family if they stayed on in the house. He proposed that Neis should sell him her house and said he would buy her another place. He did not buy her another house however, and Neis, homeless and by now quite desperate, took the matter to the high court. There, the court granted an application brought by the traditional healer’s legal team for absolution from the instance, meaning that the case was essentially thrown out for not having been proved. But Neis appealed, and, in one of its final decisions of 2023, the supreme court held that Neis had been unduly influenced by the traditional healer and set aside the absolution order. This means that the case will continue before the high court, with the court now having to consider the supreme court findings on such issues as the mental state of Neis at the time and the undue influence over her by the traditional healer.

New challenges to judicial independence in Uganda

Indications are growing of a worrying trend to weaken judicial independence in Uganda. This week, the Ugandan judiciary issued a statement entitled ‘Interference of court processes undermines judicial independence’ in which it expressed misgivings about a government district commissioner who had been ‘meddling in court matters’. But just last month, the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, ‘meddled’ even more dramatically, writing a letter to the chief justice, saying the CJ should investigate a controversial judicial decision authorising the auctioning of the national mosque, even implying the CJ should ensure the decision was overturned.

Tensions high in Kenya as President attacks judiciary

The health of judicial independence in Kenya has come under scrutiny since the start of this new year. That’s ever since the president, William Ruto, launched a reinvigorated war of words on the judiciary. He called the judiciary ‘corrupt’ and threatened to ignore court orders that delayed his planned public development projects. As the row continues, the CJ has urged her judicial colleagues to continue doing their work as usual and promised her support to them. The judiciary has also been given backing from both local and international supporters of the courts and judicial independence. Among others, members of the legal profession planned to protest at the supreme court to show their support for the judiciary.

Landmark Gaza case at the International Court of Justice

No conflict has divided world opinion like the war now being waged in Gaza. But supporters of both sides have been caught up in the drama of this week’s historic sessions of the International Court of Justice.