The African Law Service

The African Law Service brings diverse commentary on legal developments from across our African continent. 

Channel content

Africa's women struggle to gain abortion rights; USA women struggle to keep them

Most African states still struggle over the right to an early, safe, legal abortion and as a result the number of women dying from illegal terminations continues to increase at an alarming rate. However, in the United States, where women thought that this right had been established decades ago, it is now under serious threat, with the principle established in Roe v Wade under systematic attack in the courts and the states' legislatures. Just last week the Supreme Court heard argument in the latest state bid to undermine that right.

Read transcript of argument in US Supreme Court hearing: June Medical Services v Russo

Read Roe v Wade 

Indian widow’s plight ‘shocks conscience of the court’

In Africa, as in India, land rights, access to and ownership of land are a major concern. It is often the most poor and vulnerable that suffer the worst when these rights are not respected. And if you are an unlettered woman, on your own, you could find yourself and your rights disappearing altogether. Take the case of Vidya Devi who lives in India’s Himachal Pradesh state. More than half a century ago, the state took her land away from her for a road – but to this day she has been paid not a cent for it, even though the state was legally obliged to pay compensation.

Read judgment

This is a story that could have come from almost anywhere in Africa. The fact that it concerns a woman in India shows how widespread the problem is: governments in many parts of the world are among those who trample on the rights of vulnerable especially elderly women.

Eritrea 'slave labourers' - Canada's highest court allows claim to be heard in Canada

In a widely-hailed new decision, Canada’s supreme court has ruled that Eritrean workers, allegedly forced by the state to provide slave labour to a Canadian-owned mine in Eritrea, may sue the mining company in the Canadian courts. Vancouver-based company, Nevsun, has been operating a mining outfit in Eritrea, using local workers. In terms of the new supreme court decision, these miners may now sue Nevsun, in Canada and under Canadian law, for the conditions under which they say they were made to work.

Namibia's anti-graft body targets counsel from South Africa

Namibia’s Anti-Corruption Commission, already sharply censured by the high court for going beyond powers allowed it by law (see 'When the Shepherd becomes a Wolf' on this website), is now coming in for even wider criticism. This time it’s for serving a summons on counsel for the accused – in court and during a hearing related to the ‘Fishrot’ scandal that has stunned Namibia.

Counsel at the centre of Namibia’s growing Fishrot row, South African advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, is no stranger to the elite of that country’s ruling Swapo party, and has appeared for them on several occasions. This time, however, he was not given the usual benign treatment accorded legal representatives.

'Inescapable conclusion': Malawi polls fatally flawed, say concourt judges

Malawi’s constitutional court has found the May 2019 national elections awarding presidential victory to Peter Mutharika, invalid. One of the most interesting aspects of this landmark judgment is the sense of judicial confidence that comes through in each of the well over 400 pages. There is no tentative digging in corners to find possible technical infringements.

Top judge given human rights award in Zambia

Zambian Supreme Court Judge, Mumba Malila, has been honoured for his human rights work. Earlier this week, Justice Malila was the 2019 recipient of the Zambian Human Rights Commission Award, given in recognition of his contribution to the field of human rights both in Zambia and, more broadly, across Africa.

The Zambian judiciary announced this week that one of its members, Supreme Court Justice Mumba Malila, had been given the 2019 Zambian Human Rights Commission Award for his contribution to human rights in Zambia and in Africa.

‘Remarkable African jurist, judge and scholar’ – Jifa faculty member lauded

When the Judicial Institute for Africa (Jifa) schedules training for African judges, one of the most important preparatory issues is who to invite as faculty. Then follows an anxious time of discussion to ensure that the invited jurist will be available and willing to assist. Among those who regularly offers enthusiastic help and expertise is Justice Oagile ‘Key’ Dingake, originally from Botswana’s high court but now enjoying an international judicial career.

Originally I met Judge Oagile Key Dingake via his decisions. Trawling through the judgments he had delivered during his time on the bench of Botswana, I began to form an idea of who the person behind these decisions would be.

Citing outdated colonial attitudes, Zambia's Con Court dumps laws on chiefs

Contemporary Zambian laws allowing the President to regulate traditional chiefly appointments have been declared unconstitutional. The laws, based on colonial-era ordinances, were tested when a prominent traditional leader disputed the President’s power to legitimise a chief’s appointment through ‘recognition’. The court found that these presidential powers infringed the amended constitution saying ‘no law’ could allow anyone the right to ‘recognise or withdraw the recognition of a chief’.

Read judgment on ZambiaLII

Is it possible for the institution of chieftaincy and its associated traditions to fit comfortably under a system of democratic constitutionalism? Many African countries are working out how the two can coexist. One of the most recent examples comes from Zambia where three judges of the constitutional court have just had to resolve something of a conundrum.

How judges can help court reporters - plea from 2019 Judicial Dialogue

Unesco’s invitation to speak at an event associated with the Judicial Dialogue in Uganda last month included a request for practical ways in which the judiciary could ‘make life easier’ for members of the media who write about the courts. Here are some of the suggestions put to senior judges, and that made for interesting discussion.

Judicial accountability takes on an additional dimension in an era of online access. Sure, judges are held accountable through the judgments they write. But in an era of online access those judgments need to be available and in the public domain as soon as possible.

Why has Uganda’s important new human rights law not been officially promulgated?

Hailed as a hugely significant step in promoting and protecting human rights, Uganda’s new law looked set to be an example for other African countries. But despite the hope and the hype around the new legislation, the law has not yet taken effect. This despite presidential assent eight months ago. Now the failure to publish this important new law is being challenged in court.

Four months ago, we published an enthusiastic story about a new law in Uganda. It was headed, ‘Uganda’s brave new human rights law takes enforcement to a new level’.

This important new law introduced a number of ways to ensure that human rights were respected, including holding state officials responsible for all or part of the legal costs if they were found to have infringed the new law, Officials would also be liable for part of any damages awarded.

Pages

x123xx