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Swaziland shows contempt for rule of law as minister of justice and judge are dismissed

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The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the Southern Africa Development Community Lawyers Association (SADC LA) and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) voice the utmost alarm at reports that Judge Thomas Masuku has been dismissed from his office as judge of the High Court of Swaziland and that Swaziland’s Minister of Justice has similarly been dismissed for refusing to sign Judge Masuku’s dismissal order.

These actions speak to clear contempt for the rule of law and further debasement of Swaziland’s system of governance. In the end result, not only has Judge Masuku been dismissed for no offence save earning the Chief Justice’s personal enmity, but the Minister of Justice, who on principle refused to sign-on to this campaign of persecution, has also been sacrificed.

Judge Masuku’s dismissal follows a clearly tainted disciplinary hearing.  The initial twelve charges of misconduct put to Judge Masuku were so vague and unsubstantiated as to create the impression that they were spurious. As it transpired, several of the charges were abandoned at the disciplinary hearing. The disciplinary hearing itself was not conducted in compliance with fundamental principles of justice and fairness. The Chief Justice refused to recuse himself, notwithstanding the fact that he acted both as accuser and judge; the application for the hearing to be held in public was denied and the opportunity to cross-examine deponents to the affidavits attesting to Judge Masuku’s alleged misconduct was also refused. No reasons were provided for these decisions.

These recent events are likely only to further inflame Swaziland’s judicial crisis. Last week, Swaziland’s lawyers took the unprecedented step of marching through the street of the capital, Mbabane, to highlight their frustration at the Judicial Service Commission’s unwillingness to receive their complaint against the Chief Justice. The march follows an instruction by the Chief Justice to the magistrate courts to proceed with criminal cases despite the lawyers’ current boycott of the courts which has resulted in the convictions of unrepresented accused.

The Swaziland Law Society’s complaint relates to several directives issued by the Chief Justice. One of the directives requires that no case may be allocated to a High Court judge for hearing unless the Chief Justice has determined such allocation. This has proved not only practically unworkable but has also allowed for the perception of bad faith in case allocation. The most controversial of the directives determined that no summons may be issued against the King’s office, flying in the face of long-established precedent and leaving several parties, including those who have engaged in commercial transactions with the King’s office, without remedy.


Issued by:  

The International Commission of Jurists

The Southern Africa Development Community Lawyers Association

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre

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