Here we post news and developments from within, and affecting, Judiciaries in Africa
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.”
WHEN Judge Thomas Masuku was effectively expelled as a judge in Swaziland during 2011, human rights organisations said he had been the victim of a kangaroo court that breached international standards on fair trial.
This interview was first published in SwazilandNews and is republished here in full for convenience.
MBABANE - "Where the people lose confidence in the courts, then we revert to the survival of the fittest, where the muscular and the armed wield the power over others and cannot be reined in"
The fortunes of one of South Africa’s most prominent and successful liquidators, Enver Motala, have suddenly and rapidly declined, with his business ethics and behaviour called into question. Now the Supreme Court of Appeal has made it clear: his “disgraceful and dishonest” conduct means that its judges will not overturn the decision by the Master of the High Court to remove him from the panel of liquidators appointed to settle the affairs of companies in liquidation.
Read the judgment on SAFLII
FOR ordinary people across Africa, shaking their heads at the scale of corruption and ethical decline on the continent, the story of South Africa’s former liquidator Enver Motala, once known as Enver Dawood, is like an old morality play, showing the struggle between good and evil and offering a moral lesson.
Justice Catherine Bamugemereire of Uganda’s Court of Appeal has something of a name for being a tireless fighter against corruption. But her commission’s findings against a key figure in a 2015 report into allegations of fraud in the country’s national roads authority has just been set aside by the high court on the grounds of her perceived bias against him, and because his right to be treated fairly was infringed.
Marvin Baryaruha is a familiar figure to Ugandan readers. Everyone else might benefit from a brief introduction: formerly legal officer of the Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra), Baryaruha was fingered by the Court of Appeal’s Justice Catherine Bamugemereire when she reported on her 2015/16 commission of inquiry into the country’s national roads authority.
For two senior African judges, this is a particularly momentous month. Justice Joseph Wowo of Nigeria, former Chief Justice of Gambia, has been effectively exonerated by a regional court after his humiliating treatment at the hands of the courts in Gambia and his dismissal by the then-President, Yahya Jammeh. Justice Wowo has also been awarded significant damages for the way he was treated. But though his trials and tribulations may now be over, serious trouble is only just starting for a member of Kenya’s Supreme Court, Justice Jackton B. Ojwang’.
Justice Joseph Wowo, originally of Nigeria, was jailed on corruption charges in January 2014. His trial was seen by many as involving trumped-up charges and he has now won a kind of vindication via the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).
In a special statement, the Ecowas court has announced that it has ordered Gambia to pay $200 000 in “nominal damages” to Justice Wowo. Unfortunately, however, no judgment has been released that explains the court's decision.
TWO regional magistrates who felt they were being badly treated by the authorities over promotion and then recused themselves in protest, have now been ordered back to work by Namibia’s top court. The magistrates stood down from several part-heard cases to highlight what they considered unfair treatment. The two, who held office in the district magistrates’ courts, had been asked to hear regional court cases in an acting capacity. But they were also informed by the magistrates’ appointment body that they were not suitable for full-time appointment to the regional court.
Recusal has become a political football in a number of African jurisdictions during the past months, but Namibia has produced a completely new scenario: magistrates who refuse to continue a case because of a workplace grievance, and recuse themselves in protest.
In what two high court judges have described as misconduct “unprecedented in the annals of SA judicial history”, a magistrate has been found to have allowed an attorney to re-write his judgment before delivery. Even worse, the attorney concerned had appeared for one side in the case that led to the judgment. The magistrate, who has since died, initially wrote a judgment four pages in length, but after the attorney’s re-write this increased to 10 pages.
Just one sentence into the judgment, and you know this is a legal scandal of significant proportions: Judges Thembekile Malusi and Mbulelo Jolwana said the “misconduct which culminated in this review, to the best of our knowledge, is unprecedented in the annals of the judiciary in this country. We hope it will never be repeated by any judicial officer.”
Tanzania’s Chief Justice, Ibrahim Hamis Juma, has promulgated new rules that could greatly change how people from vulnerable groups experience courts and the justice system. That is why this is Jifa's winning Valentine's Day 2019 good news story: we like the care it shows for normally-forgotten people with no one else to champion their cause. The rules prioritise cases involving disadvantaged people, and set deadlines for finalizing matters in which they are involved.
Read the Rules on TanzLII
Court rules are often pretty boring to outsiders. Usually they are only of interest to lawyers who must obey them to the letter so they don’t get into trouble and make a mistake about filing deadlines, for example.
THE decision by Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, to suspend the country’s chief justice, Walter Onnoghen, has come under increasing criticism at home and abroad. Following the suspension of Nigeria’s judicial leader, his deputy as chief justice, Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, was sworn in as replacement. But Buhari’s decision has sparked considerable criticism with commentators pointing out that it comes shortly before a critical election in which Judge Onnoghen could have played an important role.
International and local outrage has followed the shock suspension of Nigeria’s chief justice, Walter Onnoghen, by the country’s president, Muhammadu Buhari on January 25, 2019.
Lawyers across Nigeria held a two-day protest against what they termed the “illegal suspension” of the CJ, boycotting the courts for the duration of the demonstration. The protest was called for by the Nigerian Bar Association following a national emergency meeting called to consider the suspension, and it was widely observed.