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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.

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.

Court orders reporting shroud over upcoming divorce hearing

Uganda’s high court has been wrestling with the difficult question of how to balance three sometimes competing constitutional principles when it comes to reporting on divorce cases: the right to free expression claimed by the media, the parties’ privacy rights and the general principle that courts should be ‘open’ and the justice they dispense should be seen to be done. The need for a judicial balancing act was triggered when an advocate appearing for one of the parties in a divorce due to be heard by the high court, brought an unusual application. He asked the court to hear an ‘anonymous divorce’ in which the parties would be referred to only by ‘special pseudonyms’. The advocate said especially sensitive information would emerge from the case relating to the mental health of at least one of the parties. There was also a young child who should be protected from publication of the details of the divorce. Further, those involved in the ‘narration supporting the proposed divorce’ included current and/or retired judges who could be affected in their work by media reports of the petition. The judge who heard the application has now agreed to the use of pseudonyms, along with other strict conditions that bar the media from covering the case.

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.

Court reviews bail conditions for Malawi’s deputy president, facing financial charges

Malawi’s deputy president, Saulos Chilima, is facing charges in the financial crimes division of the high court. He was granted bail on the day of his arrest in November 2022, when the magistrate set conditions that Chilima has observed since then. This month, however, the high court had to consider an application for certain bail conditions to be changed. During his judgment on the issue, high court judge Redson Kapindu had to deal with some strange moments from argument during the hearing on bail. Like Chilima’s counsel quoting the case of United States v Donald Trump, dealing with the former US president’s release on bail without any conditions. It sounded on point, but since no-one could find a copy of the judgment text, the Malawian court could put no weight on it.

Judgment upholds public ‘right to know’: Kenyan court orders government minister to provide information

Maverick Kenyan human rights litigator, Okiya Omtatah, has done it again. The engineer-turned defender of the rule of law brought a challenge related to a government decision exempting the instruments used in a major merger from the Stamp Duty Act. When Omtatah asked the reasons for the exemption, he was met with silence. So, he challenged that silence in the constitutional and human rights division of the high court. Now, via a judgment that reaffirms key constitutional values, presiding judge Lawrence Mugambi says the reasons should have been provided and has ordered the government to do so.