The African Law Service

The African Law Service brings diverse commentary on legal developments from across our African continent. 

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Self-confessed poachers acquitted after prosecution’s mistake

Two Tanzanian poachers, who admitted they shot two animals in a national park, have been acquitted and set free on a second appeal. The country’s chief justice and two other appeal court judges found the prosecution had made crucial mistakes in the trial of the two men. The poachers had initially pleaded guilty to tracking and killing an impala and a kudu in the Ruaha National Park.

Former judge Michael Ramodibedi RIP

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.  

Daughters: 'children of a lesser god’

This case is the third in our Women’s Month series on how courts deal with matters involving women. The case includes 13 invisible daughters and a fraudulent attempt by the estate administrator to cut out all the other sons and direct family from inheriting. So when Judge William Musyoka, of Kenya's high court - the third to become involved in the matter - found out, he put his foot down. He referred to the law on succession and to the constitution. Both make clear that discrimination against daughters and wives would not be tolerated.

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Right from the start there is a lot about this case that is troubling. And Judge William Musyoka plunges right in. The case concerns the estate of Joseph Mapesa Nakuku who died in 1988. Bernard Mapesa, one of the sons and administrator of the estate, lodged a petition in the matter, saying he was ‘son of the deceased’.

His proposal was that the entire estate should be shared, unevenly, between himself and another son.

Uganda’s courts ‘too westernized to handle cultural, customary issues’ – high court judge

Prominent Ugandan high court judge Ssekaana Musa has told litigants in dispute over traditional leadership that they should ‘always’ refer such quarrels ‘to the King or traditional or cultural leaders’. Judge Musa was considering two disputes about traditional leadership positions. He said that courts should discourage ‘petty issues’ like who was the rightful heir, family head or chief prince, from being ‘dragged to court’. These matters would be better dealt with by the established mechanism of a particular community, he said.

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Judge Ssekaana Musa heard two related applications involving the Kabaka (King) of Buganda and dismissed them both earlier this month.

Last minute 'settlement' in Lesotho's shock judicial disputes

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.

Human trafficking reports show sub-Saharan Africa a global player

The UN has just released its latest reports on human trafficking around the world. It shows that while most African countries now have proper laws in place, some countries do not use these laws and report no investigations and no prosecutions. One study quoted by the UN report estimated that 357 million children lived in conflict areas in 2016. Every one of them would have been at risk of exploitation by armed groups or other traffickers.

Read UN Reports 1 2 3

Read US State Department Report

Meet the people behind Jifa's judicial training courses

Have you never been on a course offered by the Judicial Institute for Africa (Jifa), though you would like to? Do you read Jifa’s weekly newsletter and wonder at the people and the organization behind it? Would you like to know how to get more involved in the work of the Institute? The upcoming conference of the Africa regional bloc of the International Association of Judges being held in Cape Town next week gives you the perfect opportunity to meet us and have all these questions answered.

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The conference of the Africa regional bloc of the International Association of Judges gets under way in Cape Town on 2 June 2019. A major theme of the five-day event is judicial independence, as well as factors that impact on the ability of judges to do their work properly - their competence and their welfare for example.

Don’t expect judges to do your work for you, counsel told

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.

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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.”

Taking pleasure in making justice accessible to the powerless – Judge Thomas Masuku

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" 

How a star liquidator fell from his perch

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.

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