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’.
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. The other notes that despite progressive decisions by the courts, at divorce most men still undervalue the contribution of women and are unwilling to agree to an equal share in the matrimonial property.
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. They could thus not be enforced through the formal legal system which did not, in any event, recognise pregnancy as an ‘offence’.
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. The others pleaded guilty to coup-related offences and served time, but now claim that they were forced into the guilty pleas by threats of continued torture. The high court declared all ten officers had been victims of unconstitutional treatment and they were awarded damages plus legal costs and interest.
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. This engagement should focus on formulating policies and practices that support equitable development of new technologies in the justice sector and in a way that ensures respect for human rights, transparency, efficiency and enhanced access to justice. In addition, judiciaries should invest in programmes to train judges and equip the judicial administration with the necessary interdisciplinary skills and knowledge to fully engage with this new reality.