When Judge Charles Hungwe from Zimbabwe arrived in Lesotho earlier this year to start work on a series of controversial trials, he was given a warm reception in the local media. But matters have changed since then with the accused in some of the cases over which he was due to preside proving rather less than welcoming. In fact, 16 accused due to stand trial before him have brought an application for his appointment – and the appointment of all other foreign judges who might hear the pending cases – to be declared unconstitutional. The 16 accused were led by Lesotho’s former defence minister, Tseliso Mokhosi. Their ultimately unsuccessful application was based on the argument that the foreign judges had been appointed with the connivance of the executive, to ensure the conviction of the accused and their harshest possible punishment, even the possible death penalty. The court however dismissed these allegations as “scurrilous” and “deplorable”, and found that the executive had not acted improperly.
Tension between Uganda’s judiciary and a commission of inquiry headed by one of the judiciary’s own members has heightened following a new Court of Appeal decision. The appeal judgment refused to stay a huge, court-ordered payout to a local pastor and land broker, as ordered by the inquiry, and warned that the independence of the judiciary was at stake if court decisions and orders could be countermanded by a commission of inquiry.
The commission of inquiry into land policies and administration in Uganda, headed by Judge Catherine Bamugemereire, has been at the centre of a number of high-profile disputes ever since it was set up.
Tanzania’s Chief Justice, Ibrahim Hamis Juma, has promulgated new rules that could greatly change how people from vulnerable groups experience courts and the justice system. That is why this is Jifa’s winning Valentine’s Day 2019 good news story: we like the care it shows for normally-forgotten people with no one else to champion their cause. The rules prioritise cases involving disadvantaged people, and set deadlines for finalizing matters in which they are involved. The new rules also provide that visually impaired people will get a free braille copy of any judgment or order in a case where they are involved, and that a specially assigned employee at each court will be responsible for making everyone at that court more sensitive to “vulnerability issues”.