The case of a heavily pregnant woman accused of stealing from other women at a shopping centre has given one of Malawi’s judges the chance to re-state the law on sentencing first offenders and those who are pregnant. The judge quoted international law on the subject, as well as Malawi’s own legislation and prison inspection reports, some of which she had written herself. She pointed out that the country’s prisons did not have proper health care facilities for dealing with pregnant women or infants and that the infant and maternal mortality rates in prison were a matter of concern.
When a death row prisoner has his date with the executioner commuted and starts a lifelong relationship with the inside of a prison instead, he will usually continue to explore every avenue to escape a prolonged life behind bars. Those explorations seldom amount to anything, but in the case of two prisoners waiting out their life-term in a jail in Kenya, luck – and a failure of Parliament to sort out a conflict of laws – was on their side.
Peter Muindi and Jimmy Musila were originally charged and convicted of attempted robbery with violence. On conviction they were sentenced to death. Though the death penalty was commuted to life, they lost both their appeal attempts (to the High Court and the Court of Appeal) on the question of conviction and appropriate sentence. That seemed to be the end of the road: they would have to reconcile themselves to spending the rest of their lives in jail.
Two new decisions from the High Court in Namibia show judges on the warpath against drugs and drug dealing. The distinctly tougher line follows a watershed judgment late last year (2018). As I wrote at the time, through that strongly-worded landmark decision the Namibian courts gave notice that they were intent on a serious change to the way they handle cases involving drugs and drug dealing. Judge President Petrus Damaseb and Judge Christie Liebenberg said in that earlier decision that crimes involving drugs and dealing would no longer be tolerated and that sentences would now be ‘appropriately severe’. The fruits of that decision can now be seen in two new cases, the first full judgments reported on the subject in 2019. In one, a man’s 10-year sentence for drug-related offices has been confirmed on appeal. And in a second case, the High Court has upheld a magistrate’s decision refusing bail to two accused in a high-profile case involving suspected drug importation.
In the midst of bad stories about the quality of justice being experienced in Zimbabwe’s courts comes a high court judgment that sees the accused as an individual – and that sets aside his trial sentence in the lower court as a shocking expression of the magistrate’s whims about burglars at Christmas.
The judiciary in Zimbabwe is not enjoying a particularly good international reputation at the moment. News of bail applications routinely refused, of mass trials and sham prosecutions – all have raised questions about the quality of justice being dispensed in that country during the current crackdown on opposition activists.