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Suspension of judge highlights rule of law crisis in Swaziland

Mbabane, Swaziland — Justice Thomas Masuku of the High Court of Swaziland currently faces unsubstantiated charges that could lead to his dismissal, highlighting a wider rule of law crisis in Swaziland.

On 28 June, Justice Masuku received a letter on Judicial Service Commission letterhead detailing twelve allegations of judicial misconduct against him. The letter was signed by the Chief Justice of Swaziland, Michael Ramodibedi, and directed Justice Masuku to respond to the allegations in writing by 24 July. He was also invited to attend a hearing before the Judicial Service Commission on 11 August 2011. The day after receiving this letter, Justice Masuku was suspended from duty.

The charges against Justice Masuku include insulting the Chief Justice, various minor administrative transgressions such as failing to deliver a judgment on time, and touting himself to be Chief Justice. Many of these allegations are unsubstantiated and lack any factual details.

In addition, Justice Masuku was accused of insulting the King by referring to him as “forked-tongued” in a judicial decision, a clear misreading of the Justice’s language. But Justice Masuku had in fact rejected that notion as wholly inconceivable. Regardless, the Constitution clearly protects the independence of the judiciary and the contents of judicial decisions.

On 24 July, Justice Masuku filed his written response to the charges, denying all allegations against him.

This event comes in the midst of a serious rule of law crisis in Swaziland. The Chief Justice recently stirred controversy by issuing a practice directive declaring that no suits may be brought against the King. Furthermore, Swaziland’s lawyers went on strike for six days in protest at Justice Masuku’s suspension.

On 13 July, the Swazi Law Society lodged official complaints against the Chief Justice based on various allegations of judicial misconduct. The Judicial Service Commission subsequently obtained an interdict preventing the media from publishing details of the complaints.

Swaziland is currently facing a serious economic crisis, with many countries and international institutions conditioning any future financial support on commitment to rule of law principles and sound fiscal policies. As Swaziland looks to address this crisis, it is imperative it takes proactive steps to enact changes that improve its rule of law and ensures the independence and integrity of its judiciary.


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