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Sentencing pregnant women in Malawi – judge lays down the law

The case of a heavily pregnant woman accused of stealing at a shopping centre has given one of Malawi’s judges the chance to re-state the law on sentencing first offenders and pregnant women. The judge quoted international law on the subject, as well as Malawi’s own legislation and prison inspection reports, some of which she had written herself. She pointed out that the country’s prisons did not have proper health care facilities for dealing with pregnant women or infants and that the infant and maternal mortality rates in prison were a matter of concern.

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Ndalakwanji Victor is one very lucky pickpocket. Two months ago she was convicted on theft charges, having stolen purses and jewellery from a couple of women at a mall. Arrested and tried the next day, she pleaded guilty.

Repressive policing law: scathing judgment by Uganda's constitutional court

One of Uganda’s most contentious laws has come under fire by that country’s constitutional court. A particularly repressive section giving the police power to prohibit all public gatherings and protest has been declared unconstitutional and the court’s majority took the opportunity to criticise the way police hound and harass any political gathering not called by the ruling party.

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The majority judgment of Uganda’s constitutional court in this challenge to the law that inhibited the right to gather and protest, reads like the stirring highpoint of some movie legal drama.

Chaotic land ownership records shock Ghana's supreme court

A recent dispute over the rightful owner of a plot of land in Ghana has led the country's highest court to ask why people who sell the same land to several buyers in fradulent deals, are not prosecuted. The judges also expressed their shock at the state of Ghana's records from which it is often impossible to tell the rightful owners of plots of land. They said such chaos, combined with uncertainty about whether property deals are valid, would deter also foreign investors.  

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The case of Dora Boateng v Mackeown Investments illustrates the incredible complexity of buying land in Ghana. It also shows the difficulties faced by the courts in sorting out claims and counterclaims about land ownership.

Judicial Leadership in the Time of Covid-19

The role of judicial leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic will be critical. We don’t have a single judiciary, or at least not yet – and the different parts of the South African justice system are responding differently.

Lead Taken by Gauteng High Court

Banks helped rob Uganda of millions of US dollars – constitutional court

Like sunlight shining into dark spaces, Uganda’s constitutional court has named names and pointed fingers at those responsible for a mega-scam that has shocked the country. The court’s majority found several banks played a key role in a taxpayer loss of almost US37m. Now the banks involved have each been fined US10m and other parties to the scam will also have to pay up, though the exact amounts are yet to be decided by the high court.

Covid-19 and the justice and legal sector

Covid-19, the viral threat that is sweeping across the world, is not exempting the judicial and legal sector. It raises problems for the operation of courts and legal practices as well as posing novel legal dilemmas. Here is a glimpse of some of the challenges being dealt with internationally in relation to the law, reported over the last week.  

As Jifa reported earlier this month, law firms reacted to the epidemic early with partial closures. Now, some have closed their offices completely. Others are keeping just a few staff in the offices while others work at home. But how is it decided who stay safely at home, and who must risk their health going to work?

African lawyers protest as colleagues targeted by police, judiciary

International lawyers’ organisations have reacted with shock to news that colleagues in four African countries have been targeted by the judiciary, the police or other state officials, in a way that has stopped them carrying out their work -  all without a proper opportunity to be heard.

At least four African countries have become the focus of serious concern by the legal profession because of the way the judiciary, the police or other officials in those countries have been involved in harassment of senior practitioners, without allowing for the proper processes of the law.

Senior Zimbabwean judge, Francis Bere, at misconduct tribunal

A respected senior member of Zimbabwe's judiciary is being investigated for alleged misconduct, for the second time in little over a year. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has appointed a tribunal to investigate the allegations against him and, surrounded by considerable publicity, the tribunal members have been sworn in. The allegations against the judge concern a phone call he made to a lawyer.

If you follow judicial politics in Zimbabwe you could be forgiven if you felt confused by the headline that goes with this story.

Just over a year ago, Justice Francis Bere of Zimbabwe's Supreme Court was formally cleared by a panel of four judges appointed by the Chief Justice to consider a claim of ethical misconduct against him.

Just 34, but he has already spent over half his life in a Kenyan jail

The case of Thomas Odede, arrested for murder aged just 12, illustrates how easy it is for children to be forgotten once they land in jail. Following his conviction he was detained in prison ‘at the President’s pleasure’. But after 19 years he asked the courts for help, claiming such an open-ended ‘sentence’ was unconstitutional.

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This is the kind of judgment that makes a reader feel slightly ill. It is short and to the point, but discloses a sad state of affairs.