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School’s demand that Rasta boy cut his dreadlocks ‘unconstitutional’, court finds

The future of an academically gifted senior high school boy is in the balance again. The prestige school to which the boy had earlier won admission refused to enroll him unless he cut off his dreadlocks. Ghana’s high court recently declared that, in doing so, the school had infringed his rights and he had to be admitted. Almost immediately the decision was handed down, however, the school, which claimed its ultimatum in no way discriminated against the boy for his religious Rasta beliefs, said it would appeal against the high court’s decision.

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When I first heard about the boys who were refused entry to Ghana’s posh Achimota Senior High School because of their Rasta dreadlocks, I found it difficult to believe that an educational institution could still be unaware that constitutional rights were not just theoretical, but applied to their own pupils as well.

Litigant faces criminal investigation after telling court to ‘stick its apology in its arse’

In a week that saw South Africa’s highest court order the country’s former President, Jacob Zuma, to serve a prison sentence for contempt of court, the second-highest court also had to deal with a litigant who expressed contempt, using language that must be unheard of in contemporary law reports. The five judges who heard this second matter said the litigant’s contempt would be referred to the national director of public prosecutions for action.

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During the early days of South Africa’s lockdown and associated government regulations, a then little-known organisation, the Liberty Fighters Network (LFN), took the government to court, challenging the constitutionality of the regulations.

Under-age rape trial in Malawi results in steamy judgment by court

A magistrate in Malawi has produced a decision on a statutory rape case that, in part, reads like a racy novel. The magistrate was presiding in the trial of an 18-year-old, charged with ‘defilement’ – the Malawian version of rape when the complainant is underage. At issue was the defence of the accused who said he genuinely thought the girl involved was over 16 – and in dealing with that question, the magistrate rather sensationalised the sexual history of the girl concerned.

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This has to be one of the most bizarre judicial decisions I have ever read. The senior Blantyre magistrate who wrote it, Elijah Blackboard Dazilikwize Pachalo Daniels, seems to have believed that if perhaps he wrote his decision in a salacious style, it would add weight to his criticism of Malawi’s youth in general, and in particular of the young woman involved in the matter before him.

‘The law cannot be adhered to in part’ - Malawian court on dispute over police officer sacked for nude photos

Could the law countenance a dismissal on the grounds that a recruit had nude photos taken of herself while she was at police training college? That is the unusual question posed to the high court in Malawi, when the woman concerned challenged her dismissal. Was it even illegal – under any Malawian law – for a police officer or recruit to have taken nude pictures of herself for private use? Read on to see how the court resolved the problem.

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Esther Chiunjiza, whose activities while at police training school came under scrutiny by the high court, started her training in 2016. During the period of training, she had nude photographs taken of herself by a colleague at the school. In November of that year she was deployed as a constable, and by February 2017 the photographs were being circulated on social media.

Time to end mandatory death penalty in Zambia?

The courts of Zambia continue to pass and confirm the death penalty in alarming numbers, following a 2016 constitutional review in which the majority of voters expressed support for the existing laws on hanging. Presidents have periodically commuted large batches of death row prisoners. The most recent mass commuting of death penalty sentences occurred earlier this year, when President Edgar Lungu moved 225 men and 21 women off death row, ostensibly to reduce ‘overcrowding’ and create better conditions to protect against Covid-19.

Never will I forget the first time I sat in court, watching and listening as a judge passed the death sentence on a convicted person. In the years after that, before South Africa’s new apex court found the death penalty unconstitutional, I witnessed that scene on a number of other occasions, but each time it was a shock, a jolt to the soul: how could it be that this person, whom everyone in court had somehow got to know through the hours or days of the trial, who was alive and well, would be put to death by hanging on the orders of this judge?

Media reports of unlawful home ‘invasion’ by private investigators amount to defamation – Eswatini supreme court

The Supreme Court of Eswatini has delivered judgment in a most extraordinary defamation case. It concerns the raid on a private home by operatives of a firm of private investigators. They broke into the house where they found a couple asleep, naked, in bed. Then they took distasteful photographs and video as the two people tried desperately to cover themselves. The firm said that they had been hired by the then minister of justice, who was, at the time, involved in a dispute with the man of the couple.


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It is difficult to decide what is the most shocking element of this story. Each new paragraph seems to show another, more alarming, piece of the picture.

'Integrity arm' of State given prominence in new Kenyan decision

On Valentine’s Day, 2020, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta issued an executive order than brought him no red roses from the country’s human rights bodies. In fact, the order – purporting to ‘re-organise’ government and put various judicial bodies and independent commissions under other state departments and ministries – was the subject of a constitutional challenge brought by the law society of Kenya. Now the high court has decided the petition, and declared that the executive order was unconstitutional and invalid. 

Former Chief Justices join row over Kenya President’s appointment of selected judges only

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta has appointed or promoted a number of judges. But not the whole list of 40 nominated by the judicial service commission. Only 34 were sworn in during a ceremony last week, causing strong criticism and strong justification by the President himself. Now two former Chief Justices, Willy Mutunga and David Maraga, have weighed in on the issue as well. Their comments follow criticism by some observers of their successor in office, the new CJ, Martha Koome.

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Former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga's open letter, published this week, was a detailed four-page critique of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s appointments. Those sworn in included just 34 of the 40 names given to Kenyatta by the judicial service commission for appointment and the decision to exclude six jurists has caused an uproar.

Judicial appointments’ problems spread like a virus

Like a rampaging judicial virus, political and other problems are infecting the process of appointing judges in a number of African countries. And there’s no vaccine or any other easy solution in sight. Developments in Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Kenya – and then, out of the blue last week, South Africa – all point to serious problems about the process of judicial appointments. Here’s a guide to the symptoms of this particular virus.

Lesotho

Magistrate correct to have woman imprisoned for contempt over child access - Lesotho high court

A mother was found to have committed contempt of court by disobeying an order about child-access, shared with her ex-husband, and she was sent to prison. She later claimed the magistrate had wrongly ordered her imprisonment and she demanded financial compensation for alleged constitutional damages. But the high court in Lesotho has now found the mother was the one in the wrong, not the magistrate, and applauded the magistrate for protecting the dignity and effectiveness of the courts.

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The facts that gave rise to this case speak of a woman who flagrantly disobeyed the court and refused to back down. (Because a child is involved, the mother, who was the applicant in this case, is not being named here, being merely referred to by her initials.)

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