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Crucial role for Africa's courts in preventing electoral violence

As judicial interest grows in the role that judges and courts should play relative to elections, the president of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has addressed a conference of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Kenya on the issue. Among other questions, Justice Imani Aboud discussed the contribution that courts can make, through their work as arbiters of the law, that would help assure voters, and politicians, that elections are fair, and thus help reduce the likelihood of violence related to polls.

Uganda's appeal court in new approach to division of marital property on divorce

Uganda’s Court of Appeal has handed down a decision that could prove a turning point on the question of how marital property should be divided on divorce. The judges seem to have rejected what some have seen as a growing tendency in divorce matters, namely granting women half share of a property. Instead, these judges say equality doesn’t automatically mean equity, and that a claim for half of the property must be backed by facts if it is to succeed. In this case, they said, the facts did not warrant an equal split and the wife should get just 20% of the property.

Judge from Botswana fights off transfer, takes CJ to court

A most extraordinary story emerged this week of an attempt by the Chief Justice of Botswana, Terrence Rannowane, to transfer a senior judge from the high court in Gaborone to Francistown, and of the judge’s response. The CJ is alleged to have justified the sudden transfer on the basis that a judge in Francistown, recently appointed to head the country’s independent electoral commission, needed to be based in Gaborone. The judge sought to be moved, Gabriel Komboni, now plans a judicial review of the CJ’s transfer decision. In the meantime, he has been granted an urgent interim interdict stopping the CJ’s attempted transfer of the case from one high court seat to another. The order further declared that the CJ’s appointment of three named judges to hear part of this dispute, ‘undermines judicial independence’ and is inconsistent with the constitution.

Colonial era police powers to effect indiscriminate mass arrests in Malawi declared unconstitutional

Police in Malawi, like those in other post-colonial African countries, have long enjoyed wide powers to round up, hold and threaten anyone with prosecution under the guise of crime prevention. Typically, these powers are exercised by way of mass arrests, locally known as ‘sweeping exercises’, targeting people the police regard as vagrants or who seem out of place. Though first enacted under colonial rule, these powers have remained on the statute books even after independence. Human rights activists consider these powers unconstitutional because of their blatant disregard for the rights of those rounded up, but now these ‘sweeping exercises’ have been officially condemned by Malawi’s high court.

Crucial Lesotho court decision nullifies disputed contract that could cripple the mountain kingdom

A new decision by Lesotho’s high court could prove key in a developing crisis over a disputed contract, that could bring the mountain kingdom to its knees. A full bench has found that the contract, between Lesotho and Frazer Solar, a German company that provides alternative energy systems and that would have involved Lesotho in finding funding of €100m, was null and void. Lesotho has repudiated the contract, and as a result, Frazer Solar is claiming compensation that could cripple Lesotho. Now, the Lesotho court has found the contract flouted the constitution as well as public procurement provisions and key legislation. It also fingered the minister who had signed the contract, apparently on a frolic of his own, without cabinet authorisation. The decision could help Lesotho fight off claims for compensation by Frazer Solar. These are sizeable claims amounting to a significant part of Lesotho’s annual budget.

Kenya’s independent electoral commission boss faces possible jail over contempt of court

The head of Kenya’s independent electoral and boundaries commission has been found in contempt of court and will be staring some serious punishment in the face when he appears in court for sentencing. An office technology company brought an application against commission CEO, Marjan Hussein Marjan, asking that he be fined and/or jailed for six months for having ‘deliberately disobeyed’ earlier court orders and a 2016 judgment to pay the company. The judge who heard the company’s application had some tough words for Marjan about heeding court orders.

Death penalty for convicted HIV rapists unconstitutional – Lesotho court

A decision by the constitutional division of Lesotho’s high court has found controversial provisions in that country’s sexual offences law, unconstitutional. In particular, the court held that stipulating the death penalty for a convicted rapist, held to have known he was HIV positive at the time of the crime, infringed the constitutional right to freedom from discrimination and to a right to equality before the law.

Being stateless is ‘not merely a state of mind, or a choice’ – judge

Some readers might wonder how statelessness is viewed by courts in other parts of the world. For them, the recent Canadian case of Davood Helalifar v Minister of Citizenship and Immigration will be an eye-opener. Helalifar’s application for permanent residence was refused by a senior official and so Helalifar approached the federal courts asking for judicial review of that decision. Helalifar, who has had several criminal convictions since arriving in Canada, is originally from Iran. With all that was counting against him, what weight would the federal court put on Helalifar’s statelessness?

When women can’t confer nationality on their children equally with men, problems of statelessness grow – UNHCR

As the world’s states consider how to reduce the plague of statelessness, nationality laws come increasingly under the microscope. That’s because if a child can only take on the nationality of their father, and the father is unknown or dies or disappears before a child is officially registered as his, then the child could well be doomed to a life without nationality or citizenship. Thus, ensuring that there is equality between women and men when it comes to conferring nationality on children, would help greatly in reducing statelessness around the world. The UN High Commission for Refugees keeps a careful watch on developments towards equality in this important, but often forgotten, area in the struggle to eradicate statelessness. Among its other findings, this year’s report notes that the nationality laws in several African countries do not provide mothers equal rights with fathers to confer their nationality on their children.

Crucial high court statelessness case tests route out of legal limbo

A young man, stateless and unable to access even the basic rights that go with citizenship, has brought what could be a precedent-setting case in the high court of South Africa. The young man, who knows nothing of his father, and whose mother died when he was very young, wants the court to order that he be granted citizenship of SA, either by birth or through naturalisation. He has also urged the court to order that the relevant government department must establish regulations, as the law clearly says it must, providing a route for people in his position to acquire citizenship.