The African Law Service

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

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Justice for these elderly folk – 21 years later

Well over 20 years ago the Kampala municipal authorities retrenched a group of long-serving workers. But they were not paid their full termination benefits. For more than two decades the group has been fighting to get the money to which they are entitled. They were ultimately awarded a certain sum plus damages by the high court in 2015 but they appealed, saying it was far too little. Now Uganda's Court of Appeal has given its decision on the matter. Would the judges find the pensioners ought to have been better compensated after 21 years of poverty? 

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Sometimes the courts have a chance to make a really significant difference in the lives of ordinary people. For three judges of Uganda’s Court of Appeal one of those moments came in a recent case concerning 22 elderly people.

Malawi's national broadcaster refused permission for "live" coverage of major trial: here's why

Malawi's high court judge Zione Jane Veronica Ntaba is no stranger to controversy. Among her decisions she found her country's Chief Justice, Andrew Nyirenda and the whole of the Malawi Judicial Service Commission had acted irregularly, illegally and unconstitutionally. Now she has made another noteworthy decision, turning down a request to have the second half of a potentially sensational trial broadcast by the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. Here’s the background – and her reasons.

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One of the most gripping legal matters in Malawi is the trial of 12 accused charged with murdering Macdonald Masambuka, 22. Masambuka went missing last year and his body was eventually found several weeks later, dismembered and buried.

Controversy follows this Ugandan judge, from roads to land

Justice Catherine Bamugemereire of Uganda’s Court of Appeal has something of a name for being a tireless fighter against corruption. But her commission’s findings against a key figure in a 2015 report into allegations of fraud in the country’s national roads authority has just been set aside by the high court on the grounds of her perceived bias against him, and because his right to be treated fairly was infringed.

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Marvin Baryaruha is a familiar figure to Ugandan readers. Everyone else might benefit from a brief introduction: formerly legal officer of the Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra), Baryaruha was fingered by the Court of Appeal’s Justice Catherine Bamugemereire when she reported on her 2015/16 commission of inquiry into the country’s national roads authority.

Good news - and bad - for African judiciary charged with wrong-doing

For two senior African judges, this is a particularly momentous month. Justice Joseph Wowo of Nigeria, former Chief Justice of Gambia, has been effectively exonerated by a regional court after his humiliating treatment at the hands of the courts in Gambia and his dismissal by the then-President, Yahya Jammeh. Justice Wowo has also been awarded significant damages for the way he was treated. But though his trials and tribulations may now be over, serious trouble is only just starting for a member of Kenya’s Supreme Court, Justice Jackton B. Ojwang’.

Justice Joseph Wowo, originally of Nigeria, was jailed on corruption charges in January 2014. His trial was seen by many as involving trumped-up charges and he has now won a kind of vindication via the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).

In a special statement, the Ecowas court has announced that it has ordered Gambia to pay $200 000 in “nominal damages” to Justice Wowo. Unfortunately, however, no judgment has been released that explains the court's decision.

Spy-thriller fizzles as Ugandan court acquits suspect

Official security networks in Uganda and neighbouring Sudan were set buzzing in 2013 when a Sudanese diplomat was expelled from Uganda. Shortly afterwards the story broke of the arrest of a Ugandan clerk in his country’s foreign intelligence agency, the External Security Organisation. Stephen Kisembo, a staffer of the ESO, had been found with secret documents, according to the story, and was to stand trial. He was alleged to have been delivering similar documents over several years to Sudanese diplomats, in a plan devised by the expelled envoy.

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It made a great splash in the media when Ugandan civil servant Stephen Kisembo was arrested and charged with spying for Sudan. When the high court of Uganda acquitted him recently, however, not so much.

Magistrates' recusal protests "insubordination" - Namibian Supreme Court

TWO regional magistrates who felt they were being badly treated by the authorities over promotion and then recused themselves in protest, have now been ordered back to work by Namibia’s top court. The magistrates stood down from several part-heard cases to highlight what they considered unfair treatment. The two, who held office in the district magistrates’ courts, had been asked to hear regional court cases in an acting capacity. But they were also informed by the magistrates’ appointment body that they were not suitable for full-time appointment to the regional court.

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Recusal has become a political football in a number of African jurisdictions during the past months, but Namibia has produced a completely new scenario: magistrates who refuse to continue a case because of a workplace grievance, and recuse themselves in protest.

Eviction from communal land only by chief or traditional authority - court

A small-scale farmer in the far north of Namibia wanted to evict his cousin from the same piece of land because the cousin was ignoring conditions aimed at protecting the highly-sensitive veld. But Judge Shafimana Ueitele found that the land occupation right did not give exclusivity – or the right to evict anyone from the land. Instead, that right belongs to the local chief or traditional authority.  

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When part-time farmer, Matti Toivo Ndevahoma, allowed his counsin, Vilho Shimwooshili, to occupy customary land in the northern Namibia area of Eengolo-Ondjiina, he set what may seem to readers like perfectly reasonably conditions, particularly in such an ecologically sensitive area.

Challenging culture of impunity in Kenya

Three former university professors have brought a claim in Kenya’s high court asking for restitution for human rights infringements. They seem to be part of a trend to end the culture of impunity in Kenya. The three had been detained and tortured under a previous government, and now, more than 30 years later, wanted recognition of what had happened, plus compensation for how their lives had been ruined by the unlawful action against them.

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The solemn opening remarks by Judges John Mativo and Pauline Nyamweya signaled the gravity of the decision they were about to give and the horrors the case would disclose: torture, unlawful abduction, years in illicit detention, lives wrecked, bodies broken.

Law is the “bloodline of every nation”, the judges said. “The end of law is justice. It gives justice meaning.” It was a shield or refuge from misery, oppression and injustice.

Don’t use “constitution” as a “mantra”, Malawi’s supreme court warns

Malawi’s former agriculture minister, George Chaponda, was a key figure in that country’s “Maizegate” scandal around the importation of maize from Zambia to replenish stocks that had allegedly fallen low. Public criticism of apparent corruption led to a presidential commission of inquiry and then to high court action to have Chaponda stand down during the inquiry. Though the high court initially ordered Chaponda’s suspension, the supreme court has just ruled that it was wrong to do so, and that the judge had ignored binding precedent.

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When Malawi was gripped by a maize shortage scare a few years ago the government arranged to buy more from Zambia. But allegations of corruption soon followed against George Chaponda, then minister responsible for agriculture, as well as other officials in Malawi and in Zambia.

So great was the public outcry that a presidential commission of inquiry was established to investigate.  

Citing “canteen factor”, judge stops law firm from acting against its own client

WHEN a hacker found and used the password of bank employee Shakil Pathan Ismail he was short-paid for a year while police investigated. Then the bank went under and the financial institution that took over its assets and liabilities ended the staffer’s employment while denying they were responsible to sort out the problem of his hack-related short pay. So how was he to get his money? - He headed to Uganda’s Commercial Court where Judge David Wangutusi came to the rescue.

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For a year following a breach of cyber security at Uganda’s Crane Bank, staffer Shakil Pathan Ismail was drawn into the investigation. After his password and that of another member of staff were used in an electronic hacking fraud during August 2015, the investigators put his salary on hold, promising that it would be “reinstated” once the police inquiries were completed. But this never happened.

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