The Swazi courts have been battling to resolve the question of where the judges of the industrial court and the industrial court of appeal fit into the court hierarchy. In a long, complex and technical decision, that country’s highest court has laid down the law: the two industrial courts are inferior in the legal hierarchy to the high court and the supreme court, not equal to them. In a unanimous decision, five judges of the supreme court have sorted out the problem, but not without an immense struggle, for while they stress that the intention of the law makers has to be respected, that “intention” was clearly exceedingly difficult to fathom. “Mind-boggling”, in fact, to use the supreme court’s own words.
Judges of the West African regional court have joined the fight against money laundering. They have delivered a major new decision permitting the Liberian government’s continued freezing of an account through which vast sums of money have been moving back and forth. This despite the account-holders allegedly not having carried out a single business activity. At the same time, however, the court was not afraid to hold that government to account, criticising it for tardy investigation of the matter. The new judgment is also significant for clarifying an ambiguity that has troubled the court’s jurisprudence for some time and has given rise to contradictory decisions.
The 17 000-strong East African Law Society has this week thrown its weight behind efforts to reduce growing antagonism between Rwanda and Uganda. Under its new president, Willy Rubeya, the society has offered to help with mediation, so that the border between the neighbours may be fully opened again and tensions eased.
Allegations of apartheid-style discrimination made by a group of doctors against an internationally-linked medical research institute have been questioned by Kenya’s court of appeal. The court overturned an earlier decision by the high court that found the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) infringed the doctors’ rights to equality, dignity and property among others. The findings were particularly serious because, on the strength of them, the high court judge had also awarded significant damages against KEMRI to each of the doctors. The medics were involved as PhD candidates with the KEMRI Wellcome Trust Research Programme linked to Oxford University and their initial application alleged that local black doctors were providing the equivalent of intellectual slave labour to white researchers. The appeal court has now dismissed the original application and the damages award, saying the high court had considered the evidence of only one side in the matter, resulting in a “patent injustice”.
The child in this case claimed she had been raped by a relative of her father’s, starting from when she was nine years old. The case against the accused seemed strong, and the regional (senior) magistrate convicted him and sentenced him to life imprisonment. But when he appealed, the high court found the child had not been properly sworn in: conviction was set aside, along with his life sentence, and the man walked free. This case, from the KwaZulu Natal province of South Africa, is replicated in many countries, every day, because legal technicalities related to fair trial are so often ignored. On International Women's Day, 2019, can we pledge to ensure that courts at least get the technicalities right? That would mean that fewer women and children go through the trauma of giving evidence only to find that technical mistakes by the presiding officer, the prosecutor or even counsel, make the whole process an often dangerous and soul-destroying waste of time.