On 6-7 August the ICJ co-hosted a symposium on threats to judicial independence in East and Southern Africa.
The event was held with the collaboration of the Africa Judges and Jurists Forum, the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists Kenya Section, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, Southern Africa Development Community Lawyers Association, Malawi Law Society, Pan African Lawyers Association, East Africa Lawyers Association and the American Bar Association.
Recent actions taken to undermine judicial independence in East and Southern Africa include proposed constitutional amendments, executive interference with the functioning of the Judicial Service Commissions and verbal as well as physical threats against judges.
Participants in the symposium included judges, lawyers, academics and civil society representative. ICJ Commissioner and former Chief Justice of Kenya Dr Willy Mutunga, and Professor Jill Ghai of Katiba Institute delivered the key note addresses.
Dr Willy Mutunga speaking to challenges of judicial independence in the political context of Kenya in his keynote address, said “I believe that the independence of the judiciary… is about the integrity of the judicial officers… Building peoples’ confidence in the judiciary and the judicial officers depends on the integrity of the institution and its judicial officers and staff.”
In her address, Professor Jill Ghai evaluated various ways in which independence of the judiciary is undermined, taking into account examples from various countries.
“We must not relent in letting the Executive know that we are watching whenever there are attempts to undermine the judiciary,” Ghai said in closing.
ICJ Secretary General Sam Zarifi that judicial independence was facing genuine threats, not just in Africa but throughout the world.
“The issue of judicial independence has been at the heart of the ICJ’s work for the last 70 years almost… We have been defending the rule of law and human rights. For both of those the independence of the judiciary is absolutely essential,” Zarifi said.
On the second day of the symposium, participants into four groups discussed the nature of challenges and weaknesses in the Executive-Judiciary relations, litigation as a strategy for protecting judicial independence, strategies for increasing social and political activism in defence of judicial independence, and the prospects and strategies for regional and international advocacy in the age of COVID-19 respectively.
In his closing remarks, outgoing ICJ Regional Director Arnold Tsunga flagged Malawi as a recent case study where the judiciary had demonstrated its independence when the Constitutional Court nullified the 2019 presidential election results, citing widespread irregularities.
Watch the proceedings of the symposium here:
Justice Mavedzenge (ICJ Legal Advisor) t: +27793889990 e: justice.mavedzenge(a)icj.org
Shaazia Ebrahim (ICJ Media Officer) t: +27716706719 e: shaazia.ebrahim(a)icj.org