The African Law Service

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

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Uganda’s courts ‘too westernized to handle cultural, customary issues’ – high court judge

Prominent Ugandan high court judge Ssekaana Musa has told litigants in dispute over traditional leadership that they should ‘always’ refer such quarrels ‘to the King or traditional or cultural leaders’. Judge Musa was considering two disputes about traditional leadership positions. He said that courts should discourage ‘petty issues’ like who was the rightful heir, family head or chief prince, from being ‘dragged to court’. These matters would be better dealt with by the established mechanism of a particular community, he said.

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Judge Ssekaana Musa heard two related applications involving the Kabaka (King) of Buganda and dismissed them both earlier this month.

Last minute 'settlement' in Lesotho's shock judicial disputes

As fresh elections in Lesotho seem increasingly likely because of splits in the ruling party, a last minute settlement means the judicial disputes that have shocked the legal world over the last month are, at least for now, off the table. The settlement came shortly after new details emerged of barbed correspondence between the President of the Court of Appeal, the Acting Chief Justice and the Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane.

The ongoing crisis in Lesotho's judiciary, involving internal tensions as well as problems between the judiciary and the country's political leadership, has been taken off the boil - at least for now. This follows a last-minute settlement of several high-profile cases that, had they continued, would have destroyed all semblance of judicial independence and were set to create a constitutional crisis.

Human trafficking reports show sub-Saharan Africa a global player

The UN has just released its latest reports on human trafficking around the world. It shows that while most African countries now have proper laws in place, some countries do not use these laws and report no investigations and no prosecutions. One study quoted by the UN report estimated that 357 million children lived in conflict areas in 2016. Every one of them would have been at risk of exploitation by armed groups or other traffickers.

Read UN Reports 1 2 3

Read US State Department Report

Meet the people behind Jifa's judicial training courses

Have you never been on a course offered by the Judicial Institute for Africa (Jifa), though you would like to? Do you read Jifa’s weekly newsletter and wonder at the people and the organization behind it? Would you like to know how to get more involved in the work of the Institute? The upcoming conference of the Africa regional bloc of the International Association of Judges being held in Cape Town next week gives you the perfect opportunity to meet us and have all these questions answered.

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The conference of the Africa regional bloc of the International Association of Judges gets under way in Cape Town on 2 June 2019. A major theme of the five-day event is judicial independence, as well as factors that impact on the ability of judges to do their work properly - their competence and their welfare for example.

Don’t expect judges to do your work for you, counsel told

Ethical and procedural issues have been strongly taken up by Ghana’s Supreme Court in an important and wide-ranging new decision – along with a pronouncement that an offer and acceptance via electronic communication makes for a contract just as valid as if it had been put in writing and signed.

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You know the legal community had better wake up and pay proper attention when a country’s highest court makes a comment like this: “It is about time counsel and parties alike appearing before this court took decisions, directions and guidelines issued by it seriously and complied strictly with them.”

Taking pleasure in making justice accessible to the powerless – Judge Thomas Masuku

WHEN Judge Thomas Masuku was effectively expelled as a judge in Swaziland during 2011, human rights organisations said he had been the victim of a kangaroo court that breached international standards on fair trial.

This interview was first published in SwazilandNews and is republished here in full for convenience. 

MBABANE - "Where the people lose confidence in the courts, then we revert to the survival of the fittest, where the muscular and the armed wield the power over others and cannot be reined in" 

How a star liquidator fell from his perch

The fortunes of one of South Africa’s most prominent and successful liquidators, Enver Motala, have suddenly and rapidly declined, with his business ethics and behaviour called into question. Now the Supreme Court of Appeal has made it clear: his “disgraceful and dishonest” conduct means that its judges will not overturn the decision by the Master of the High Court to remove him from the panel of liquidators appointed to settle the affairs of companies in liquidation.

Read the judgment on SAFLII

FOR ordinary people across Africa, shaking their heads at the scale of corruption and ethical decline on the continent, the story of South Africa’s former liquidator Enver Motala, once known as Enver Dawood, is like an old morality play, showing the struggle between good and evil and offering a moral lesson.

Long delays in Ugandan justice system “no speculation” says Supreme Court judge – and grants bail

Faced with an application for bail pending a last appeal, how should a senior court approach the reality of this situation: long delays will mean that the accused could well have served his entire sentence by the time the appeal is heard? Here is what Uganda’s highest court had to say on the subject.

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Jean Louis Sumbu did not gloss over the facts. When he asked Uganda’s Supreme Court to order that he be allowed out on bail pending his last-ditch appeal before that same court he had to explain the whole story.

Sumbu, “a male adult, Congolese, of sound mind”, is 64 and has had a stroke.

“Raging” debate on bail sorted by Tanzania’s highest court

When members of a country’s highest judicial forum speak of a dispute that is “raging” in the courts there, readers should take note. Obviously, something important is going on. In the case of Mwita Joseph Ikoh and two co-accused, that “something” is the issue of which court has jurisdiction to consider whether they may be given bail: the high court, or the specialised division of the high court that deals with corruption and economic crimes. Earlier this month the Court of Appeal decided the question – and the “raging” debate should now be settled.

Read the judgment on TanzLII

As the rest of Tanzania was getting ready for year-end celebrations in December 2017, six people in the Mwanza region found themselves in deep trouble. Instead of spending time at home over the holiday they were in jail, after being arrested in relation to drugs charges. The six now find themselves charged under the Drug Control and Enforcement Act with trafficking in “precursor chemicals”.

Jifa newsletter “essential reading”: judge trainer

This week’s Core Skills course offered by the Judicial Institute for Africa brought a new group of judges together from all over the continent. Even the faculty teaching the course had some new faces, one of them being Judge Sanji Monageng, who was once a magistrate in Botswana, as well as a judge in The Gambia and on the International Criminal Court among other judicial positions. Jifa’s Newsletter chatted to her briefly about her experience over the week of training and about the newsletter itself – and discovered she regards the weekly newsletter as “essential reading”.

From her many years as a judicial officer – a magistrate, a high court judge at national level and many more years as a judge at the international level – you might think that former Botswana judge, Sanji Monageng has little left to learn. But you would be wrong. If there is one thing that struck her during the Jifa Core Skills training week it was this: every teaching experience is an opportunity to learn, and this week was no exception.

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