The African Law Service

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

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Lost in the system: court admits it is to blame for man’s indefinite detention in mental asylum

IT sounds like a Kafka novel: a man found criminally insane and thus not responsible for a murder he committed, sent to an asylum for observation. Then he was forgotten for years. Now, he says the doctors have ruled he is sane and he wants to be released. But the minister who has to decide whether to release him was never informed he was there in the first place.

Lost in the system: court admits it is to blame for man’s indefinite detention in mental asylum

Exactly 19 years ago Juma Muwonge, a car mechanic in the western Uganda district of Mbarara, was arrested for murder. In December 2003 the high court convicted him and sentenced him to be hanged. He sat on death row for nearly eight years before the court of appeal heard his matter and decided to take drastic action, setting aside the conviction and death sentence and referring him for psychiatric observation.

Lone judicial voice in runup to Zimbabwe's elections

In Zimbabwe elections on 30 July were followed by violence in which soldiers opened fire on people protesting against what they claimed were “rigged” election results, killing at least six people.  During the months before the elections, however, many court applications tried to ensure broader democracy and a more transparent election process – almost all without success. Read here about the solitary exception in which a judge ordered the ruling party to stop misusing schools and school children for party rallies, only to be overturned on appeal.

OF all the many pre-election cases heard by Zimbabwe’s courts, only one resulted in a judicial decision that broadened and protected democracy. And even in this case, the outcome was overturned on appeal.

The stand-out case was heard by Judge Joseph Martin Mafusire. In Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe v Zanu-PF he was asked for an interim order to prevent school pupils, teachers, school buses and buildings from being used as though they were resources belonging to the ruling party.

Judges stress "sanctity" of constitution as tension mounts over rule of law

AT 814 pages, this critically important constitutional court decision was never going to be easy to digest. Five judges, headed by the deputy chief justice, Alfonse Chigamoy Owiny-Dollo, contributed to its length and they all had a lot to say.

AT 814 pages, this critically important constitutional court decision was never going to be easy to digest. Five judges, headed by the deputy chief justice, Alfonse Chigamoy Owiny-Dollo, contributed to its length and they all had a lot to say.

Between abduction and contempt of court: children left without parents

A NIGERIAN father of three, serving time in a UK jail, says the English judges who heard his case are “racist” and “biased”, and that his imprisonment amounts to slavery. Levi Egeneonu is in prison for contempt of court, after he refused to return his three sons to the UK, where their mother – who has not seen her children since 2013 – is desperate about their fate. The man also claims that he cannot obey the orders of the UK courts since they conflict with the orders of the Nigerian courts.

A NIGERIAN father of three sons, Levi Egeneonu, claims his imprisonment in the UK for contempt of court is unjust because he is caught between conflicting judgments in the UK and in Nigeria and cannot obey both. Egeneonu, also known as Bernard Nkem, has been before UK judges at least a dozen times over his 2013 absconding with the children while the family was on holiday in Nigeria. His wife, Ijeoma Egeneonu, has not seen her children since then.

Court rejects international arrest warrants in African trafficking case

VULNERABLE girls and young women trafficked from Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Ghana will have to wait even longer before they know whether they will ever get justice. The couple accused of trafficking them, referred to only as M and B, because they have children who may not be identified, are the subject of extradition attempts. An Italian court in Naples has asked the UK courts to respond to two European arrest warrants (EAWs) and extradite M and B, now in the UK.

COMMENTING on the documentation before the UK court in the extradition case, judge Andrew Nicol said, “Nothing about these warrants is straightforward”.

The couple were tried and convicted in their absence, and the Italian courts now want them brought to Naples for sentencing. Despite the confusion and inadequacy in the documentation referred to by the UK court during the appeal, however, a number of significant details emerged.

"Passing the baton" for judicial discipline in Seychelles

JUST weeks after a top level judicial delegation visited Seychelles and offered help in resolving the conflict gripping the islands’ judiciary, there comes a significant new development: the constitutional court of Seychelles has dismissed the latest appeal of the suspended judge who is at the heart of the ongoing, tense situation.

THE delegation from the Southern African Chief Justices’ Forum was invited by the judicial leaders of Seychelles for a fact-finding mission against the background of growing judicial difficulties.

Collective Land Ownership in the 21st Century: Overview of Global Trends

Statutory recognition of rural communities as collective owners of their lands is substantial, expanding, and an increasingly accepted element of property relations. The conventional meaning of property in land itself is changing, allowing for a greater diversity of attributes without impairing legal protection.

Land 20187(2), 68; doi:10.3390/land7020068

by Liz Alden Wily

Van Vollenhoven Institute, Leiden Law School, P.O. Box 9520, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands

Received: 30 April 2018 / Accepted: 21 May 2018 / Published: 29 May 2018

Swaziland: Chief justice in stand-off with senior lawyer

ONE of Swaziland’s longest-serving attorneys has been banned by the chief justice from appearing in court or even lodging court papers. The chief justice says the attorney was in contempt of court because he disobeyed court orders to pay maintenance in a case where he was executor of an estate. Now the attorney has fired back, saying the move was unconstitutional and that he was denied a hearing: he wants the CJ investigated for misbehavior – and he wants to sue.

This is one of the most bizarre matters I have ever come across. First, it involves a decision by the chief justice of Swaziland effectively banning a lawyer from litigating in that country’s courts. And then, in response, the lawyer concerned has asked the minister of justice to convene an ad hoc committee to investigate whether the chief justice is guilty of serious misbehavior.

Kenya: Judicial Service Commission demands recusal of Supreme Court justices

IN an extraordinary move, Kenya’s judicial service commission has tried to persuade virtually all of that country’s top judges, from the chief justice down, to recuse themselves from hearing a matter involving the JSC. The commission argued that as this would disqualify the supreme court from hearing the matter, the decision of the lower court should stand as the final word.

THIS is the latest episode in a long-running dispute between Gladys Shollei and Kenya’s Judicial Service Commission. However, what might have started as a straightforward appeal became something quite different with an application by the JSC that virtually all the supreme court judges recuse themselves from considering the matter.

Namibia: Bending a little bit backwards

LAY litigant Ronald Somaeb was in over his head when he attacked the right of any Namibian judge to hear the case in which he was suing the chief justice: all judges would be thinking “about (their) boss, the chief justice” and would be biased in favour of the CJ, he said. Somaeb's efforts came to nothing, however, and his case has been dismissed as vexatious and frivolous.

In Namibia the challenge to the chief justice came from lay litigant Ronald Mosementla Somaeb. The first round of his fight with the judiciary concerned a house, owned by the bank, from which he was evicted.

In this case the high court noted, “It has been the practice of this court to bend a little bit backwards in order to accommodate genuine lay persons as justice is for all ….”

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