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The Revised Rules of the African Court 2020: towards a more effective African Court

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights is not a body that goes in for rapid or unnecessary change. So, when a revised set of rules is announced, everyone interested in the court and its work should take note. This week we’ve asked human rights expert Usani Odum, who is working at the court on secondment from the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Human Rights, for his take on the changes. Here he outlines the new provisions and their likely impact.

High court judge finds 'no place' for sexual offences corroboration rule in Malawi

Many women and men have long felt uncomfortable with the corroboration requirement attached to trials of sexual offences. This requirement, whether a matter of law or practice, appears increasingly unjustifiable, unconstitutional even. It is inevitably, and almost exclusively, directed against women who are the overwhelming targets of sex crimes. Malawi now appears to have joined the list of jurisdictions where the corroboration rule will be regarded with suspicion and discarded.

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From being standard practice, the requirement that there be additional corroboration in sexual crimes is gradually losing its grip. Several African common law countries have already specifically stopped insisting on this requirement, South Africa and Namibia among them.

Twomey steps down as Seychelles CJ but continues on Court of Appeal – and joins us at Jifa!

No-one could ever call Justice Mathilda Twomey of Seychelles a ‘usual’ kind of person. She has spent the last five years as the highly-successful Chief Justice of Seychelles and a member of the country’s apex Court of Appeal. But she had only accepted the post on condition that she would stand down as CJ at the end of five years. Now she has reached the end of that contract period, and is about to start a new phase in her life, one that could greatly benefit a wider community than just Seychelles.

True to her word, Justice Mathilda Twomey has stepped down as Chief Justice of Seychelles after five years. She accepted the post on condition that it would not be a permanent position. She further undertook that after relinquishing the CJ’s office she would continue serving Seychelles as a member of the country’s apex Court of Appeal.

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Bail for arrested government critics and others is becoming an increasingly common legal issue in countries of the Southern African Development Community. But a new decision from Kenya’s high court, written by Judge Joel Ngugi, is a model of how the problem should be approached. He was faced with a magistrate’s decision to approve the continuing detention of government critic Oscar Sudi, against whom no charges, not even so-called ‘holding charges’, had yet been formulated.

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Rude comments are the stuff of politics in Kenya, but they are also likely to stir anger and even violence. That seems to be one of the reasons that Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission, set up to prevent ethnic conflict, keeps a sharp lookout for remarks that could be regarded as ‘hate speech’.

Kenya's apex court confirms 'novel' rights of victim's counsel

A man accused of murdering a student has helped make new law. That's because of the significant judgment issued by Kenya's Supreme Court after he tried to stop counsel for the deceased student becoming involved in the trial. Joseph Waswa, charged with killing Mitch Kibiti Barasa, said that his fair trial rights were infringed when the trial court allowed counsel for Barasa to play a role in the matter. But the Supreme Court has now put him right.

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High-flying Kenya socialite Joseph Waswa, 33, is facing charges of widespread fraud and corruption. But it is his murder trial that will ensure his name lives on in the law reports.

Controversial Ugandan retired military officer loses court bid to prevent arrest during election run-up

An increasingly contentious figure in Uganda, retired military general Henry Tumukunde, has just tried – and failed – to invoke judicial help against persistent police action targeted at him. Tumukunde, a once close ally of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, plans to contest the presidential position in next year’s elections. But during the run-up to the elections, he has become a person of considerable interest to the police and the army, and he has been arrested several times.

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For some years, a now-retired Ugandan military officer, Henry Tumukunde, has featured repeatedly in the news and in court judgments.

Sewage is ‘not a public friend’

A broken sewerage pipe in the capital of Malawi has led to a successful claim for damages under the country’s consumer protection legislation. The pipe broke but when it was not initially fixed by the authorities, sewage found its way into the pipe that supplied clean water for drinking and other household use. Consumers then formed a neighbourhood action group to monitor the quality of the drinking water, and to bring legal action for compensation.

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To the best of my memory it has not happened before that I have had to apologise in advance for the content of a story about a court decision. This, however, is the exception proving the rule.

No one will find the content of the judgment pleasant, while the detailed complaint of the applicants is not for sensitive stomachs.

You have been warned!

Litigation in Lesotho as King declines to appoint judges

Many people in the legal world will be aware of the looming constitutional crisis in Kenya where the President, Uhuru Kenyatta, has refused to appoint a number of judges whose names were presented to him by the Judicial Service Commission. Fewer, however, will have been aware that a similar problem has arisen in Lesotho and that litigation is now pending to test whether the King – Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy – may refuse to approve the appointment of candidates proposed by the commission.

No-one disputes that Lesotho has a serious shortage of judges. And with some having recently retired and two recent deaths, the situation has now become critical.

Towards the end of August, the Judicial Service Commission met to consider new appointments. There were five vacancies, and after the commission’s consideration, five names were finalised and sent to the King for appointment.

Court finds against ‘back door emergency’ in Malawi

A constitutional court in Malawi has delivered an unequivocal condemnation of that country’s Covid-19 lockdown regulations. In its decision last week, the three judges found that the rules were unconstitutional as they were made in terms of a law that did not permit such rules to be made. They also criticised the government for imposing a lockdown without concern for the poor of Malawi who would not have access to food and other essentials if they could not leave their homes.

Kenya pressurised by big oil to backtrack on plastic ban

An alarming new series of reports in the international media claims that the US oil and petro-chemical lobby is putting considerable pressure on Kenya to roll back its environmental protections related to plastic waste. The report has led to strong reaction by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Kenya has played a leading anti-pollution role in Africa, for example with its 2017 ban on the manufacture, sale and distribution of plastic bags.


Read statement by African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

For years Africa, and Kenya in particular, has played a central role for businesses involved in the manufacture of plastic. And while conservation activists have been urging that the world should move away from plastic, major oil companies want to make more plastic – and they need new markets for their products.

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