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Judges ask: are ‘fraudulent leakages’ responsible for all those missing court records?

Three Ugandan judges have been wrestling with an increasingly common problem in the region: appeals that cannot be heard because vital court documents have gone missing. In this latest case the appeal judges said that as with other such cases it was not possible to know whether the documents had disappeared by way of ‘fraudulent leakages’, but that the appeal rights of the accused had been infringed as they had been waiting six years for the registrar to supply the record, without success.


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Ending childhood statelessness and dismantling barriers to birth registration in South Africa

A recent decision by South Africa’s apex court has put the focus on an antiquated law that prevented children of unmarried parents accessing birth registration in the same way that children of married parents do. It’s a crucial issue for the children affected and their families, because the law as it previously stood was a serious obstacle and the potential cause of statelessness for those denied birth registration.

"Children are vulnerable members of society, even more so when they are without valid birth certificates” - Victor AJ in Centre for Child Law v Director General: Home Affairs

 

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‘Foreigners everywhere, nationals nowhere’: Southern Africa’s changing response to UN campaign on statelessness

Statelessness, once a ‘forgotten human rights crisis’, has been put at the forefront of a global agenda with the UN’s #Ibelong campaign. Among the most tragic victims of statelessness are children found abandoned in a state and who, in most Southern African states, would as a result never have any nationality. Condemned to a life in a limbo that extends even to their adult years, and that may even be inherited by their children, these stateless persons illustrate how essential the right to nationality is to every person.

In the aftermath of World War II, hundreds of thousands of individuals found themselves stateless in a shattered Europe.

Namibian judge delivers landmark ruling on gay rights and the rights of a child born of gay parents

The case involves a same-sex couple where only one of the couple is a Namibian. They have had a child by surrogacy, and now applied for the child to be granted Namibian citizenship by descent. The minister of home affairs and immigration objected, saying there should first be a paternity test to establish whether the biological father was in fact the Namibian man rather than his partner. Now the court has found against the minister, saying there is no requirement in law for a ‘biological link’ between child and parent.

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The judge who decided this case, Thomas Masuku, was clear about the significance of the matter. In the first paragraph he wrote that sometimes society throws up a cluster of unprecedented situations that challenge the court to ‘extend the reaches of the law’. This sometimes happened with ‘ground-breaking decisions’ that required charting a new legal course. ‘This case is no different,’ he said.

Kenyan government put the ‘cart before the house’ on data protection and must live with the consequences, says court

The high court in Kenya has taken a strong line on protection of personal data related to the government’s new ‘huduma’ identity cards. The cards are meant to do away with the need for many cards related to various government services – ID, passport, clinic cards, driving licences and others. Collection and collation of the data needed for the new, all-encompassing cards has already taken place and the cards are now available for collection.

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Top government officials in Kenya have acted with anger to a high court decision throwing doubt on the validity of the country’s new all-encompassing huduma (“service”) identity cards.

The rollout of data collection began in December 2020, and millions of the new cards have already been collected. The government has, however, expressed concern that people are taking so long to collect the balance of the cards.

Malawi paralegal investigation given go-ahead by court

The Malawi law society has lost the first round in its battle over turf: it had asked the high court to squash an investigation being planned by the legal affairs committee of the national assembly. The investigation could see a recommendation that paralegals be allowed to defend certain cases in the magistrates’ courts. However, Judge Mike Tembo refused to stop the inquiry, and said the action reminded the court ‘of the colonial days … in which the law severely limited black people’s political participation’.


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The case was brought by the Malawi law society (MLS) that asked the high court to consider whether hearings planned by the legal affairs committee (LAC) of parliament were legal. The hearings would be to investigate proposed law amendments that might allow paralegals to appear and play a limited role in the lower courts.

Fairness at divorce

Two new judgments from the courts in Kenya and Zimbabwe underline changing judicial views about the role of women in building up a family home and the contribution that women, as wives and mothers, may be said, on divorce, to have made. One stresses with new urgency that women who work in the home should stand up for their rights and, at divorce, be prepared to give evidence in court about the significance of their contribution to the home.

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Read Zimbabwean judgment

 

Women facing divorce settlements are often particularly vulnerable to claims that they are not entitled to equal shares of matrimonial property because their financial contributions to the property had been less than the contributions of their former husbands.

Charged and found guilty of ‘being pregnant’, school learners now awarded damages in compensation

A group of pregnant school learners, the boyfriends by whom they were pregnant, and the parents of some of them, have been awarded damages for their ‘arrest’ and conviction under community by-laws. Sentenced to pay fines, they were kept in police cells until the fines were paid in full. Now, however, the fines must be repaid, along with damages. The exact amount of damages due was finalised last week by the assistant high court registrar who also warned that community by-laws did not amount to formal law.

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Five years after being arrested, charged, convicted and fined for ‘being pregnant’, a group of what were, at the time of the arrests, primary school girls, along with boys allegedly responsible for the pregnancies and the parents of some of the youngsters, have been awarded damages.

Long struggle for justice after failed Kenya coup

Reverberations from Kenya’s 1982 coup attempt were felt once again last week, this time in a high court case brought by former members of the armed forces, tortured in the wake of the failed coup. The plotters had tried to get rid of the then president, Daniel Moi. After being held for more than a year, one of the former members of the armed forces involved in the litigation was subsequently let go without any charges.

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Almost 40 years after a coup attempt that shook Kenya to its foundations, ten former officers have won a long battle for compensation. This followed their detention and torture in the wake of the failed attempt to overturn the government.

The Forum at Mosi-oa-Tunya: Judiciaries and the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Africa

Just like the inevitable thunder of the "smoke" of the Zambezi at Victoria Falls, where this year's Southern African Chief Justices Forum conference took place, so is the flood of the Fourth Industrial Revolution engulfing the African justice sector. The theme of the conference was The Judiciary and Technology in Africa. In my presentation to the Forum, I proposed that African judiciaries have an opportunity to engage with the technologies shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution now.

The Southern African Chief Justices Forum (SACJF) provides a formal platform, structure and framework through which the Chief Justices of Eastern and Southern Africa can collectively reflect on critical issues on justice delivery and adopt action plans to address those issues in a systematic and sustained way to strengthen justice delivery in the region.

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