The ‘Fishrot’ corruption scandal engulfing Namibia seems set to choke the country’s legal profession as well: while the Law Society of Namibia tries to access the records of one of its prominent members, suspected of being involved in the scandal and to have used his trust account for money-laundering, it has become clear that a number of the society’s council members face problems of a conflict of interest in the matter. In fact, so many of the council are hampered in one way or another, that local media speculate the society’s attempts to investigate involvement by members of the profession in the scandal could be compromised.
In this most unusual set of circumstances, a Namibian acting judge, while still in his permanent post as principal magistrate, needed to bring an insurance claim. His insurance company sent formal instructions to counsel. Now, as acting judge, he has an applicant before him represented by the same counsel. Are these good grounds for the applicant’s recusal application?
At first the official summary, provided at the top of all Namibian judgments, had me confused. It referred throughout to ‘I’ and ‘my’, something I had not seen before. Why was the judge featuring himself in the summary? Given my confusion, it was reassuring to find that even the judge concerned said there had been a ‘rather uncommon approach’ in this case.
When Botswana’s Court of Appeal delivered its recent decision on 709 people from Caprivi, living in the Dukwi refugee camp, deep in Botswana and close to the border with Zimbabwe, the judgment came as a serious blow to the hopes of the refugees. It has also raised questions by the refugees and their supporters, local and international, about whether the court was correct in its approach. Less theoretically, the refugees are deeply concerned about the dangers that they believe await them once they are returned to Caprivi – something that now seems inevitable – as well as the impact on their children’s education.
Despite the scourge of wildlife poaching across Africa, the courts seldom see either poachers or smugglers in the dock. A recent trial followed by an appeal, however, has given members of the judiciary in Namibia a chance to express their concern about these crimes and to consider the prison term that should be imposed.
The story begins just like a movie: a police sergeant working the x-ray conveyor belt machine at Namibia’s Hosea Kutako International Airport suddenly spots something suspicious about two suitcases as they pass through the scan. She offloads them, and then calls their owners from the departure hall.
Namibia’s top court has delivered a decision giving notice to the country’s intelligence services that they, too, fall under the aegis of a constitutional democracy. The case concerned material collected by an investigative journalist that appeared to show the Namibia Central Intelligence Service (NCIS) was involved in corruption. But when he asked for comment he was informed that publication of his proposed story was unlawful, and the NCIS then went to court to enforce that prohibition. This week’s judgment gave the Supreme Court an opportunity to explain that even the NCIS was bound by the values of an open and democratic society and could not count on the courts’ blindly agreeing to banning publication even where ‘not a scintilla of evidence’ was provided to show that prohibition was necessary. If genuine grounds to prevent publication existed, however, these could be raised with a court behind closed doors.