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Concern about CJ's instruction that heads of court should 'see and approve' all judgments before delivery

A storm broke over the head of Zimbabwe's Chief Justice Luke Malaba when he issued a memo to heads of court on 16 July, 2020. Among others, the memo instructed that before a judgment was delivered by any judge, 'it should be seen and approved by the head of court'. The instruction led to a major furore, with critics at home and abroad saying it infringed judicial independence. They asked what would happen if a head of court disagreed with and declined to 'approve' a judgment that a member of the judiciary was about to deliver.

Courts’ differing views on whether independent candidates may contest elections

The role of independent candidates in elections is contested in many African countries. The Constitutional Court in South Africa issued a landmark decision on the question during June 2020. It held that the law had to be changed so that independent candidates may contest seats in elections. When a similar complaint was brought to the courts in Nigeria, however, the result was the opposite: there the courts upheld laws permitting candidates to contest political elections only via established political parties.

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This case involved seven Nigerians who want to stand for elective office as independents. They were contesting Nigerian law in terms of which an individual must be a member of a political party in order to participate in elections, and thus become part of government.

Dream job in Seychelles

The Chief Justice of Seychelles, Justice Mathilda Twomey, is stepping down from the position, and a search has begun to fill the post. Among other responsibilities, the Chief Justice sees to the discipline of legal practitioners in Seychelles and sits on the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court and, ex officio, on the Court of Appeal.

The constitutional appointments authority (CAA) of Seychelles is inviting applications for the position of Chief Justice. In the official notice of vacancy, the CAA explains that the Chief Justice sits full-time as a judge of both the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court. The CJ, as a judge of the Supreme court is also an ex-officio member of the Court of Appeal.

Two judges of the region die as a result of pandemic. RIP

The judiciary in Lesotho and South Africa has been shaken by the death of colleagues as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Both Judge Patrick Jaji of SA’s Eastern Cape bench, and Judge Lisebo Chaka-Makhooane of Lesotho’s commercial court, had been confirmed as having contracted the virus, and died of associated complications.

Two judges have fallen victim to Covid-19, shocking their colleagues on the bench as well as members of the legal profession.

Judge Patrick Jaji, 53, of South Africa, a student activist in his younger days, died in hospital from complications resulting from Covid-19. The Judge President of his division, Selby Mbenenge, said that the effects of the pandemic had now reached ‘the doorstep of the judiciary’.

Allowing birth certificates for voter ID would be a ‘retrograde step’ – Ghana’s Supreme Court

Two combined applications testing decisions of Ghana’s attorney general and related to the national elections scheduled for 7 December 2020, have been decided by that country’s Supreme Court. Determined to clean up Ghana’s voter register, the AG gazetted new regulations. Among them was the decision not to allow the old (current) voter identification cards to be used to identify people wanting to register as voters on the new, updated list.

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The decision in the case had already been announced by the court a few weeks ago, with its reasons deferred until now. Applicants in the two matters had asked that the gazetted non-inclusion of current voter identification cards and of birth certificates should be declared unconstitutional.

All seven judges who heard the matter agreed to reject this proposition.

More work needed on Ivory Coast's election commission - African Court

For the second time, Ivory Coast has been taken to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights over whether the country’s electoral commission is sufficiently independent and impartial. In 2016, the court found the then electoral commission seriously lacking, and in 2017 it gave a further decision spelling out and interpreting its earlier decision. The commission has been reworked since then but a different group of challengers have tested the new body, claiming it was still not sufficiently independent or impartial.

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Ivory Coast is one of several African countries to have given notice that they will no longer allow individuals to bring cases against them before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Woman candidate from Malawi’s 2019 elections wins court order for fresh polls in her constituency

A new round of national elections was held in Malawi during June, after courts in that country held that the polls of May 2019 had been invalid because of the extent of the irregularities during the elections. But not all the polling is done: last month, just as fresh national elections were taking place, the high court declared that the May 2019 elections in one constituency was invalid. The judge said he was satisfied that the parliamentary elections in Phalombe North were affected by various irregularities.

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Promise Salima was an independent candidate in Malawi’s May 2019 elections. Her Facebook page is a mixture of Christian exhortations and blessings, with encouragement to her readers and friends to register and to vote.

New book points to solutions for civil case backlogs

When the deputy chief justice of Namibia writes a book on court-managed civil procedure in that country’s high court, then judges in many countries should pay attention. That's because it is written by the judge who is widely regarded as the architect of Namibia's new and highly successful system, and he has made sure that his book will be informative and helpful for other countries wanting to follow the same path - towards judicial case management and a dramatic reduction in civil case backlogs.

Justice Petrus Damaseb’s new book details a judicial revolution: the change from the old, established system for managing civil procedure in Namibia, to a highly-efficient new order in which the ‘orthodox adversarial system’ has been transformed into one ‘where the pace of civil litigation has been removed from litigants and lawyers and placed in the hands of judges.’

African Court tells Tanzania: your constitution violates basic rights

Africa’s premier regional court, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, has found that Tanzania’s constitution is in breach of the African Charter and other international law. This is because it provides that no one may test the results of Tanzania’s presidential elections in court. Tanzanian advocate, Jebra Kambole, brought the litigation in the African Court saying his rights under the African Charter had been violated. Finding in favour of Kambole’s application, the court ordered that Tanzania amend its constitution to remove this violation.

Disclaimer: The judgment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in this matter was read out, online, by the court on Wednesday this week, one of three decisions delivered that day. The judgment delivered in this case has not yet been placed on the court's website. The video link has also not yet been posted, even though the links for the other two judgments of that day have been placed on the court's YouTube page. However, I taped, watched and listened to the delivery of the decision in this matter as it was being handed down.

Preserve your independence, court urges Namibian election commission

A full bench of Namibia’s high court has found that the country’s electoral commission acted unlawfully when it removed certain approved names from the list of candidates supplied by a political party and allowed other party members to replace them and be sworn-in, instead. Two members of Namibia’s Popular Democratic Movement brought the application when the electoral commission permitted a number of PDM members, not on the PDM list approved by the electoral commission before the polls, to replace those who had been approved by the commission.

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Though it might seem to some a petty issue, brought by candidates irritated with being sidelined from the National Assembly at the last minute, this is a case that goes right to the heart of what constitutes a democratic election. And the proper course for an electoral commission to adopt in order to be – and to be seen to be – independent.

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