A new decision from the US Supreme Court has a strong message for other courts, lawyers and everyone who works with court documents and with legislation, annotated or otherwise. The judgment restates the principle that no-one may claim copyright on decisions of the courts because the law belongs to ‘the people’ who have a right to know its content. But the judgment goes further and holds that government-commissioned annotations, like headnotes made on legislation, are also not subject to copyright. It’s an important decision for courts everywhere now that increasing numbers of lawyers and legal activists demand access to court judgments in electronic format. It’s also important because of the likely influence of the US court’s newly-articulated thinking on the copyright status of annotated legislation.
In this week’s round of an ongoing dispute over the validity of Malawi’s Covid-19 restrictions, the high court has ruled that the government’s planned regulations may still not be put into effect. The court has referred these challenges to the Chief Justice who will consider setting up a high court constitutional panel that would hear the problem and find a way forward. At its heart, the dispute is about whether the proposed restrictions have a valid legal base and/or contravene the constitution. But this week’s judgment also took on the attorney general’s office for having made no appearance in court when the matter was argued. The court called this a ‘snub’ and ‘astounding effrontery’.
Lawyers of yet another SADC country have turned to the courts for help with security force brutality against ordinary people in the community, carried out under cover of Covid-19 regulations. This time it is Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights that is asking the high court’s constitutional panel to stop the security forces from torturing, killing and abusing people. The organisation also wants the court to order that all members of the security forces who have assaulted or tortured members of the public should be arrested and charged. The lawyers claim that ‘terror and consternation’ is sweeping through the nation, and that the judges should act urgently to stop the unlawful brutality and to protect people against further ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’.
From the holiday islands of Seychelles comes a new judgment with a warning for all of us on lockdown with kids spending too much time online. It is a horrifying reminder of the dangers lurking on Facebook and other seemingly innocent platforms: even in a paradise like Seychelles, children may fall victim to evil that stalks them. The judgment, from the Supreme Court of Seychelles is important because of this warning, but it is also important for lawyers because of the sentencing system used by the court. Given the ‘shocking’ nature of the crimes, the judges concluded that sentencing in the matter had to be decided using what had come to be known as ‘the totality principle’, most developed and applied in Australia, the UK and Canada. It was a common law principle that required a judge, in a case where the accused was convicted on several offences, to ensure that the ‘aggregation of the sentences appropriate for each offence is a just and appropriate measure of the total criminality involved.’
In Their Own Words:
Read judgment in Tapvice Enterprises v Tetrade Investment Bank
Judge Pisirai Kwenda, High Court of Zimbabwe, Harare
A number of issues bedevilled this case, which was an application for rescission of a default judgment against the applicants. One problem was the responsibility of attorneys to inform parties against whom they would be appearing in court, of any change of address. And to do so, not by way of a general letter to all and sundry, as was done in this case.
But there were other concerns too. One of which was that the applicants did not include, among their documents, a copy of the order that they wanted rescinded.