The African Law Service

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

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Long delays in Ugandan justice system “no speculation” says Supreme Court judge – and grants bail

Faced with an application for bail pending a last appeal, how should a senior court approach the reality of this situation: long delays will mean that the accused could well have served his entire sentence by the time the appeal is heard? Here is what Uganda’s highest court had to say on the subject.

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Jean Louis Sumbu did not gloss over the facts. When he asked Uganda’s Supreme Court to order that he be allowed out on bail pending his last-ditch appeal before that same court he had to explain the whole story.

Sumbu, “a male adult, Congolese, of sound mind”, is 64 and has had a stroke.

“Raging” debate on bail sorted by Tanzania’s highest court

When members of a country’s highest judicial forum speak of a dispute that is “raging” in the courts there, readers should take note. Obviously, something important is going on. In the case of Mwita Joseph Ikoh and two co-accused, that “something” is the issue of which court has jurisdiction to consider whether they may be given bail: the high court, or the specialised division of the high court that deals with corruption and economic crimes. Earlier this month the Court of Appeal decided the question – and the “raging” debate should now be settled.

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As the rest of Tanzania was getting ready for year-end celebrations in December 2017, six people in the Mwanza region found themselves in deep trouble. Instead of spending time at home over the holiday they were in jail, after being arrested in relation to drugs charges. The six now find themselves charged under the Drug Control and Enforcement Act with trafficking in “precursor chemicals”.

Jifa newsletter “essential reading”: judge trainer

This week’s Core Skills course offered by the Judicial Institute for Africa brought a new group of judges together from all over the continent. Even the faculty teaching the course had some new faces, one of them being Judge Sanji Monageng, who was once a magistrate in Botswana, as well as a judge in The Gambia and on the International Criminal Court among other judicial positions. Jifa’s Newsletter chatted to her briefly about her experience over the week of training and about the newsletter itself – and discovered she regards the weekly newsletter as “essential reading”.

From her many years as a judicial officer – a magistrate, a high court judge at national level and many more years as a judge at the international level – you might think that former Botswana judge, Sanji Monageng has little left to learn. But you would be wrong. If there is one thing that struck her during the Jifa Core Skills training week it was this: every teaching experience is an opportunity to learn, and this week was no exception.

Justice for these elderly folk – 21 years later

Well over 20 years ago the Kampala municipal authorities retrenched a group of long-serving workers. But they were not paid their full termination benefits. For more than two decades the group has been fighting to get the money to which they are entitled. They were ultimately awarded a certain sum plus damages by the high court in 2015 but they appealed, saying it was far too little. Now Uganda's Court of Appeal has given its decision on the matter. Would the judges find the pensioners ought to have been better compensated after 21 years of poverty? 

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Sometimes the courts have a chance to make a really significant difference in the lives of ordinary people. For three judges of Uganda’s Court of Appeal one of those moments came in a recent case concerning 22 elderly people.

Malawi's national broadcaster refused permission for "live" coverage of major trial: here's why

Malawi's high court judge Zione Jane Veronica Ntaba is no stranger to controversy. Among her decisions she found her country's Chief Justice, Andrew Nyirenda and the whole of the Malawi Judicial Service Commission had acted irregularly, illegally and unconstitutionally. Now she has made another noteworthy decision, turning down a request to have the second half of a potentially sensational trial broadcast by the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. Here’s the background – and her reasons.

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One of the most gripping legal matters in Malawi is the trial of 12 accused charged with murdering Macdonald Masambuka, 22. Masambuka went missing last year and his body was eventually found several weeks later, dismembered and buried.

Controversy follows this Ugandan judge, from roads to land

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.

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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.

Good news - and bad - for African judiciary charged with wrong-doing

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.

Spy-thriller fizzles as Ugandan court acquits suspect

Official security networks in Uganda and neighbouring Sudan were set buzzing in 2013 when a Sudanese diplomat was expelled from Uganda. Shortly afterwards the story broke of the arrest of a Ugandan clerk in his country’s foreign intelligence agency, the External Security Organisation. Stephen Kisembo, a staffer of the ESO, had been found with secret documents, according to the story, and was to stand trial. He was alleged to have been delivering similar documents over several years to Sudanese diplomats, in a plan devised by the expelled envoy.

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It made a great splash in the media when Ugandan civil servant Stephen Kisembo was arrested and charged with spying for Sudan. When the high court of Uganda acquitted him recently, however, not so much.

Magistrates' recusal protests "insubordination" - Namibian Supreme Court

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.

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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.

Eviction from communal land only by chief or traditional authority - court

A small-scale farmer in the far north of Namibia wanted to evict his cousin from the same piece of land because the cousin was ignoring conditions aimed at protecting the highly-sensitive veld. But Judge Shafimana Ueitele found that the land occupation right did not give exclusivity – or the right to evict anyone from the land. Instead, that right belongs to the local chief or traditional authority.  

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When part-time farmer, Matti Toivo Ndevahoma, allowed his counsin, Vilho Shimwooshili, to occupy customary land in the northern Namibia area of Eengolo-Ondjiina, he set what may seem to readers like perfectly reasonably conditions, particularly in such an ecologically sensitive area.

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