5 August 2014

Swaziland: Law Society Takes On Top Judges

Photo: Nadia Neophytou
Swaziland protests.

The Law Society of Swaziland is taking on the kingdom's judiciary, arguing that King Mswati III has appointed judges in violation of the constitution.

An attempt to challenge the appointment as a High Court Judge of Mpendulo Simelane failed on Friday (1 August 2014) when a case at the High Court was dismissed before the Law Society's lawyers arrived at the court.

The Law Society argues that Simelane is too inexperienced to be a High Court Judge. It says the constitution states that a High Court Judge must have at least 10 years' experience in legal practice. The Law Society says Simelane only has five years' experience, which the judge disputes.

In Swaziland, King Mswati rules as an absolute monarch and he chooses the judges. Critics say that Swazi judges tend to do the bidding of the King, rather than uphold the constitution.

The King reappointed Michael Ramodibedi as Chief Justice in contravention of the constitution that states the holder of this position should be a Swazi. Ramodibedi comes from Lesotho.

The three judges on the High Court bench in the Simelane case were themselves inexperienced. The chair, Judge Abande Dlamini, sits in the Industrial Court and had been sworn in as an acting High Court Judge only the day before.

The other two judges on the bench, Justices Mbuso Simelane and Bongani Dlamini are also only acting judges.

Together they dismissed the Law Society's case and awarded punitive damages against the organisation when at 9.30am the case was called three times and the Law Society failed to answer. The Law Society's legal team arrived at the court 15 minutes later.

The Law Society is to appeal the decision. Meanwhile, it is also to challenge the appointment of Judge Abande Dlamini, because, as with Simelane, Dlamini has not been a legal practitioner for at least 10 years.

It also says that Justices Mbuso Simelane and Bongani Dlamini should not hear a case brought by the Law Society because they are themselves members of that organisation.

Judge Mpendulo Simelane was criticised by the United States, the European Union and many human right organisations across the world last month when he sentenced a magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko to two years imprisonment after they wrote and published articles critical of the judiciary in general and Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi in particular.

Following the dismissal of the Law Society's application, the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, reported that permanent High Court judges were available to hear the case and it was not necessary to have acting judges on the bench.

It speculated that Chief Justice Ramodibedi did not trust some of the permanent High Court judges.

The newspaper reported that in May 2014 Ramodibedi issued warrants for the arrest of three High Court judges, but had to withdraw them after Supreme Court judges threatened to resign if the arrests went ahead.

The newspaper reported, 'The move to sideline the judges is consistent too with the CJ's recent interview in one of the tabloid weekly publications that some judges were being used to overthrow the Monarch and he would not allow them whilst he was still in charge.

'This recent move by the CJ is a vote of no confidence to the rest of the judges of the High Court to listen to such an application,' the newspaper reported.

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InFocus

Swazi Law Society Disputes Judges' Appointments

Swaziland protests.

The Law Society of Swaziland is taking on the kingdom's judiciary, arguing that King Mswati III has appointed judges in violation of the constitution. Read more »