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First-class vs economy-class access to the law: what the US Supreme Court says

A new decision from the US Supreme Court has a strong message for other courts, lawyers and everyone who works with court documents and with legislation, annotated or otherwise. The judgment restates the principle that no-one may claim copyright on decisions of the courts because the law belongs to 'the people' who have a right to know its content. But the judgment goes further and holds that government-commissioned annotations, like headnotes made on legislation, are also not subject to copyright.

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It is a principle that some jurisdictions still can’t quite accept: that decisions written by judges don’t belong to the judges who authored them, or to the Chief Justice, or to the government of the country where the judge lives. No, these decisions belong to ‘the people’, and ‘the people’ must have access to these judgments. Otherwise, how will people know what the courts have said, and thus what the law is that they must obey?

RIP Justice Augustino Ramadhani

Justice Augustino Ramadhani, who died this week at the Aga Khan Hospital in Dar es Salaam, had been the Chief Justice of both Zanzibar and of the United Republic of Tanzania. He had also served as a judge on the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights from 2010 to 2016, and for the last two years of his term had been President of that court. That was not his only appointment to a regional court, however, and he had served as a judge on the East African Court of Justice from 2001 to 2007.

Among those offering tributes to Justice Augustino Ramadhani were his colleagues at the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights where he had served from 2010 to 2016, and the Chief Justice of Uganda, Bart Katureebe. Justice Katureebe said he had learnt with ‘deep sorrow’ of the death of his former colleague in Tanzania, and he conveyed the condolences of himself and of Uganda ‘for this unfortunate loss of a distinguished personality.’

‘He has not only served his country, but the entire East African people. We shall dearly miss him.’

Lockdown on hold, AG taken to task: latest from Malawi high court

In this week’s round of an ongoing dispute over the validity of Malawi’s Covid-19 restrictions, the high court has ruled that the government's planned regulations may still not be put into effect. The court has referred these challenges to the Chief Justice who will consider setting up a high court constitutional panel that would hear the problem and find a way forward. At its heart, the dispute is about whether the proposed restrictions have a valid legal base and/or contravene the constitution.

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Both the two key issues in this judgment will have sent shock waves through Malawi’s legal community. First, the court confirmed that the challenge to the validity of the country’s Covid-19 restrictions was weighty enough to be referred to the Chief Justice, Andrew Nyirenda. If the CJ certified it was necessary, a special panel of high court judges would sit to decide the constitutional issues raised.

Totality principle in 'harrowing' Seychelles online sexual abuse case

From the holiday islands of Seychelles comes a new judgment with a warning for all of us on lockdown with kids spending too much time online. It is a horrifying reminder of the dangers lurking on Facebook and other seemingly innocent platforms: even in a paradise like Seychelles, children may fall victim to evil that stalks them. The judgment, from the Supreme Court of Seychelles is important because of this warning, but it is also important for lawyers because of the sentencing system used by the court.

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It is the kind of story that terrifies every parent: three men using social media to prey on children, to draw them into their circle of depravity and then sexually abuse them.

Security forces sowing terror in Lesotho, Lawyers for Human Rights tells courts

Lawyers of yet another SADC country have turned to the courts for help with security force brutality against ordinary people in the community, carried out under cover of Covid-19 regulations. This time it is Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights that is asking the high court’s constitutional panel to stop the security forces from torturing, killing and abusing people. The organisation also wants the court to order that all members of the security forces who have assaulted or tortured members of the public should be arrested and charged.

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The shocking story told in the court papers begins with the declaration of emergency in Lesotho on 27 March to curb the spread of Covid-19. The Lesotho Defence Force and the Lesotho Mounted Police Service were both ordered to enforce the measures contained in the emergency provisions.

Suspension of Lesotho's parliament 'irrational', 'unlawful' - court

It was a transparent attempt to avoid a vote of no-confidence by parliament, hiding behind a claim to be protecting MPs from Covid-19. And now the controversial Prime Minister of Lesotho has had his come-uppance from the country’s high court which ruled his prorogation of parliament was invalid. Just another blow for the soon to be ex-PM, Thomas Thabane, a man under suspicion of involvement in the murder of his estranged second wife. Just how soon is far from clear, however, with defiant Thabane saying he will choose how and when to make his exit. 

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The latest drama in the increasingly sensational career of Lesotho’s Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, began on the night of Friday 20 March when he issued a legal notice proclaiming that he had prorogued parliament.

'Just not good enough' - get up to speed for electronic hearings: UK court

Like it or not, the coronavirus is forcing lawyers – judges, magistrates, prosecutors, advocate and attorneys – to play catch up with technology. Many courts are now operating through the lockdown or other social distancing restrictions via electronic hearings, and judges have to be up to speed. A number of recent cases show the courts wrestling with the question of how much extra time should be allowed to parties for preparation when the case is to be heard electronically.

Judge orders curfew exemption for Kenya’s lawyers

Kenya's High Court has declared as unconstitutional the 'unreasonable use of force' by police since a dusk to dawn curfew came into effect in that country on 26 March. The court has also ordered that the authorities must include lawyers and members of the police oversight authorities on the list of those exempt from the provisions of the curfew, established as a response to the coronavirus.

Kenya’s Covid-19 restrictions invalid, unlawful – law society

Kenya’s law society has launched a court application challenging the validity of the country’s Covid-19 restrictions because they have not been approved by parliament. The law society also claims they are invalid because they discriminate against the poor, in that they make wearing masks compulsory while those living in poverty will not be able to afford them. Further, the society argues that the regulations go further than the laws from which they derive their power, will allow. 

As ‘moral Covid-19’ infects Namibia, even legal profession touched by Fishrot bribery scandal

The ‘Fishrot’ corruption scandal engulfing Namibia seems set to choke the country’s legal profession as well: while the Law Society of Namibia tries to access the records of one of its prominent members, suspected of being involved in the scandal and to have used his trust account for money-laundering, it has become clear that a number of the society’s council members face problems of a conflict of interest in the matter.

Read application by the Law Society of Namibia

As the ‘Fishrot’ scandal spreads the stench of corruption throughout Namibia, the watchdog for the country’s legal profession, the Law Society of Namibia, is desperately trying to carry out its duty and investigate allegations of trust fund abuse by some of its members.