Here we post news and developments from within, and affecting, Judiciaries in Africa
The judiciary of Seychelles has launched a new website, providing access to the judgments of its courts as well as giving the judiciary a more human face. It is intended to help the public with provide resources as well as information. Everything the public needs to know about accessing legal aid, for example, can be found there, while for lawyers all the Practice Directions now become available in a single place
Take a tour of the new website
The new website is headed by a photograph of the Palais de Justice of Seychelles and it is enough to make anyone keen for a judicial appointment there or even just a visit: an elegant white building, with tall columns, palm trees and a general warm sense of calm.
When the Judicial Institute for Africa (Jifa) schedules training for African judges, one of the most important preparatory issues is who to invite as faculty. Then follows an anxious time of discussion to ensure that the invited jurist will be available and willing to assist. Among those who regularly offers enthusiastic help and expertise is Justice Oagile ‘Key’ Dingake, originally from Botswana’s high court but now enjoying an international judicial career.
Originally I met Judge Oagile Key Dingake via his decisions. Trawling through the judgments he had delivered during his time on the bench of Botswana, I began to form an idea of who the person behind these decisions would be.
Unesco’s invitation to speak at an event associated with the Judicial Dialogue in Uganda last month included a request for practical ways in which the judiciary could ‘make life easier’ for members of the media who write about the courts. Here are some of the suggestions put to senior judges, and that made for interesting discussion.
Judicial accountability takes on an additional dimension in an era of online access. Sure, judges are held accountable through the judgments they write. But in an era of online access those judgments need to be available and in the public domain as soon as possible.
As many African states struggle to increase the number of women on the bench and in leadership positions, one country in particular can boast of the substantial progress it has made in this area. Zambia’s Chief Justice Irene Mambilima spoke about the issue in a speech she delivered last week. She disclosed that all of the three top judicial posts are now held by women.
Chief Justice Irene Mambilima of Zambia, invited to address the country’s women accountants, said that the theme of the symposium which focused on women in leadership roles, was one dear to her heart.
The Court of Appeal in Seychelles, that country’s highest judicial forum, has been joined by one of the continent’s leading judges who is also a prominent academic writer on the issues of gender-based violence. Judge Lillian Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza of Uganda’s apex court, was sworn in at State House this week, where she will sit with three other members of that bench, along with the court’s president. Her appointment will give the highest court of Seychelles additional depth on issues of rape and femicide, subjects on which she is an acknowledged expert.
As Africa and many other parts of the world threaten to explode with anger over the rape of children and women, femicide and other forms of gender-based violence, the highest court of Seychelles has scored an important addition to its ranks. This judge brings a particular knowledge of and sensitivity to the growing problem of violence against women from her academic work as well as her experience on the highest court of her home country.
Magistrates across Lesotho, concerned about the continuing conditions there that they believe impact negatively on the rule of law, judicial integrity and general confidence in the legal system, have taken a number of resolutions likely to impact on the courts and the public. Among others, they have resolved to release people being held awaiting trial if their cases ‘are not prosecuted within a reasonable time’. They have also resolved to dismiss criminal cases where ‘pending investigations’ have continued for an ‘unreasonably long time’.
Magistrates in Lesotho are clearly unhappy. This year they have already tried repeated strikes to highlight their concerns but without success - promises made to them have come to nothing.
Then, this week, representatives of the magistracy from across Lesotho met in Maseru and took a number of decisions likely to impact on the functioning of the courts and the legal system throughout the country.
Lesotho continues to prove itself highly unstable in relation to the judiciary and its tenure of office. More threats of suspension, inquiries related to impeachment and other disciplinary steps against top judges have been issued in Lesotho than in any other country in the region. This week, new action was launched against the Acting Chief Justice as well as against the President of the Court of Appeal (for the second time in two months this year, and following a successful impeachment process in 2016 from which he bounced back).
Controversies tied to the judiciary in Lesotho continued unabated this week. First shock was that Prime Minister Thomas Thabane renewed his attempt to have the Court of Appeal president, Kananelo Mosito, suspended pending an inquiry into his behaviour. It is Thabane's second attempt in just a few weeks, and follows shortly after the appeal court had ruled that Thabane could not again threaten Judge Mosito with suspension on the basis of a letter of complaint written by the Acting Chief Justice.
The most controversial judge in the SADC region over the last several decades, Justice Michael Ramodibedi, has died. Judge Ramodibedi, 74, died in Johannesburg but the cause of death has not been confirmed. He leaves his wife and five children. Among other positions, the judge served as Chief Justice of what is now known as Eswatini, and as president of the court of appeal in his home country, Lesotho. He left the bench in both countries under a cloud of disgrace.
Judge Michael Ramodibedi, who died earlier this month, was appointed to the bench in Lesotho during 1986. During the next years, he also served as a judge in a number of other countries, authoring decisions in the Seychelles and Boswana among others. During 2008 he was elevated to the position of Lesotho’s Court of Appeal president, and at the same time he served on the court of appeal in what is now Eswatini.
As fresh elections in Lesotho seem increasingly likely because of splits in the ruling party, a last minute settlement means the judicial disputes that have shocked the legal world over the last month are, at least for now, off the table. The settlement came shortly after new details emerged of barbed correspondence between the President of the Court of Appeal, the Acting Chief Justice and the Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane.
The ongoing crisis in Lesotho's judiciary, involving internal tensions as well as problems between the judiciary and the country's political leadership, has been taken off the boil - at least for now. This follows a last-minute settlement of several high-profile cases that, had they continued, would have destroyed all semblance of judicial independence and were set to create a constitutional crisis.
Ethical and procedural issues have been strongly taken up by Ghana’s Supreme Court in an important and wide-ranging new decision – along with a pronouncement that an offer and acceptance via electronic communication makes for a contract just as valid as if it had been put in writing and signed.
You know the legal community had better wake up and pay proper attention when a country’s highest court makes a comment like this: “It is about time counsel and parties alike appearing before this court took decisions, directions and guidelines issued by it seriously and complied strictly with them.”