Justice Abednigo Tafa of the Lobatse High Court’s judgement has on Thursday effectively steered to a provisional close down of the Court of Appeal sittings – which is revered as the highest decision making structure of the judiciary.
Following the ground breaking judgement, it is understood that CoA President Justice Ian Kirby thereafter confirmed that indeed the Supreme Court has ceased to sit until the constitutional matter is settled. But now there remain questions of who will listen to the Appeal should there be any or what Parliament will do to normalize the situation. There are further questions as to whether the Justices of the Court of Appeal will continue serving during the period of appeal until a final decision is made.
When making the breathtaking ruling, Justice Tafa ordered that the appointment of Judges of Court of Appeal Justices; Stephen Gaongalelwe, Isaac Lesetedi, John Foxcroft, John Cameron, Arthur Hamilton and Craig Howie is “constitutionally invalid.” He also declared section 4 of the Court of Appeal Act as “constitutionally invalid and therefore struck down.” The said section states that: “the Court of Appeal shall, in addition to the judges provided for it under the Constitution, consist of such number of Justices of Appeal as the President of Botswana may consider necessary to appoint.”
The section was consequently struck down as it was seen as incompatible with the constitution section 99 (2). The section 99(2) posits that: “the judges of the Court of Appeal shall be (a) the President of the Court of Appeal; (b) such number, if any, of Justices of Appeal as may be prescribed by Parliament; and 2 of 2002, section 5. (c) the Chief Justice and the other judges of the High Court: Provided that Parliament may make provision for the office of President of the Court of Appeal to be held by the Chief Justice ex-officio.”
According to Tafa, the operation leading to stroking down section 4 of the Court of Appeal Act would be however suspended temporarily. “The operation of order (2) above is hereby suspended for a period of 6 months to allow the relevant authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure that the appointments of the Court of Appeal Judges and all other respondents who have not been re-appointed after the expiry of three year fixed term contracts are regularized,” he said in the judgement while adding that government should bear the costs of the two South African Senior Counsels who have argued the matter from both sides of the two parties in the matter.
What esteemed local attorneys make of the ruling and its impact?
Martin Dingake of Dingake Law Partners:
According to Dingake the way he interpretes Justice Tafa’s judgement, it means in essence, the Court of Appeal cannot sit while adding that everyone particularly judicial stakeholders are at fault. He started by narrating to Weekend Post that President Khama was wrong to the extent that he appointed Judges of the Court of Appeal contrary to the law. “He can’t determine the number of the Court of Appeal Judges,” he said as a matter of fact.
Dingake continued to point out that, secondly parliament too was in the wrong as they literally abdicated it constitutional responsibility of law making. Thirdly, he also lamented that JSC too blundered to the extent that it made recommendations to the appointment of Judges which contravenes the law. “They ought to have checked the law and accordingly advised themselves.”
The managing attorney at Dingake law Partners also blamed the Attorney General (AG), the then AG Athaliah Molokomme, saying she was ‘off beam’ as she failed to advise herself and as per the obligation she also failed to advise government. According to Dingake, “the statutory notice ought to have put her on guard.”
Uyapo Ndadi of Ndadi Law Partners:
“The judgement is a hallmark. It does show the significance of separation of powers at all levels of the three tier system. Most importantly, it has shown that the Constitution is supreme and triumphs over any piece of legislation. It is from the Constitution that powers are derived to enable or refuse anything.
Any provision of an Act that goes against the Constitution is vulnerable to attack and liable to be nullified by the court, as it did with Section 4 of the Court of Appeal Act. I am proud of our courts for not shying away from striking down laws that are unconstitutional, not so long ago, Judge Key Dingake struck down a law that permitted children born out of wedlock to be adopted without their fathers consent in all circumstances, even when the father was present in the life of the child.
The judiciary is therefore playing an important part in ensuring that checks and balances are a reality. “I am however not entirely sure whether the court was correct on the issue of renewability of the judges contracts. I found the reasoning by the court difficult to follow and I am inclined to think that the court may be wrong on this score. I was however not involved in this case so I may have to engage further on the issue.”
Tshiamo Rantao of Rantao Kewagamang Attorneys
“The Botswana High Court (Tafa J.) delivered a groundbreaking judgment in Manual Workers Union vs The President, JSC and Others. It struck down section 4 of the Court of Appeal which gives the President the power to prescribe the number of judges of the Court of Appeal, holding that only parliament is constitutionally empowered to do so. This declaration of invalidity was suspended for 6 months to allow the relevant authority to amend accordingly.
Secondly, the High Court declared as unconstitutional the renewal of three year contracts of the other justices of the CoA. The appointing authority has no powers to renew the 3 year contracts of Justices of Appeal. Lord Abernathy, Lord Hamilton, Howie J. and Foxcroft J. have been effectively disqualified. There is no suspension of this second order. It is therefore effective forthwith. Only the CoA can set this aside.
Interestingly, section 99 (2) b of the Constitution makes the Chief Justice and the other judges of High Court members of the Court of Appeal. My interpretation is that Justices Gaongalelwe, Lesetedi, Foxcroft, Cameron, Hamilton and Howie are entitled to sit once parliament has effectively regularised by way of amendment to section 4 of Court of Appeal Act. It seems that for now only Brand would be entitled to sit.
If the respondents decide to appeal this matter, it would be interesting how the panel to hear and determine the appeal would be constituted. The appeal would require a full bench of 5 judges. The Judge President would not be entitled to sit since he is a member of the Judicial Service Commission which is the 2nd Respondent.
The Judge President may delegate one of the Judges of the High Court or Brand J to empanel a full bench with High Court judges. This means that Tafa J’s judgment is likely to be tested on appeal by his High Court peers generally. Manual Workers Union is likely to object to that, but we have to wait and see. I know of jurisdictions where the High Court’s decision would prevail if it is impossible to constitute an appeals court.
This judgment has far-reaching consequences for the other appeals. For instance, the Law Society and Omphemetse Motumise versus The President and the JSC appeal was argued before a full bench on 16 January 2017. Judgment was reserved to a date to be communicated by the Registrar of the CoA. Two of the five judges who sat have now been disqualified by the Tafa J’s judgment. We will certainly have to take instructions from clients on the implications of that.
This should be very interesting for a student of Constitutional Law and Public Law,” Rantao postulated. Other observers maintains that the case has a chilling effect on constitutionalism and the rule of law in general in Botswana.
The matter was brought to Court by Amalgamated Local Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union (Manual Workers Union) which Tafa agreed had a locus standi to bring the matter before court. They cited as respondents President Lt. Gen. Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the Speaker of the National Assembly Gladys Kokorwe, Attorney General, Justices Elijah Legwaila, Isaac Lesetedi, Stephen Gaongalelwe, John Foxcroft, John Cameron, Arthur Hamilton, and Craig Howie who are High Court Judges as well as that of Court of Appeal.
Manual Workers were represented by Senior Counsel Advocate, Alec Freud from South Africa, together with Mboki Chilisa and Shathani Somolekae while respondents were represented by South African’s Senior Counsel Advocate, Anwar Albertus with Advocate Grant Quixley and Neo Sharp.
Botswana Police Service (BPS) has indicated concern about the ongoing trend where the general public falls victim to criminals purporting to be police officers.
According to BPS Assistant Commissioner, Dipheko Motube, the criminals target individuals at shopping malls and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) where upon approaching the unsuspecting individual the criminals would pretend to have picked a substantial amount of money and they would make a proposal to the victims that the money is counted and shared in an isolated place.
“On the way, as they stop at the isolated place, they would start to count and sharing of the money, a criminal syndicate claiming to be Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officer investigating a case of stolen money will approach them,” said Motube in a statement.
The Commissioner indicated that the fake police officers would instruct the victims to hand over all the cash they have in their possession, including bank cards and Personal Identification Number (PIN), the perpetrators would then proceed to withdraw money from the victim’s bank account.
Motube also revealed that they are also investigating a case in which a 69 year old Motswana woman from Molepolole- who is a victim of the scam- lost over P62 000 last week Friday to the said perpetrators.
“The Criminal syndicate introduced themselves as CID officers investigating a case of robbery where a man accompanying the woman was the suspect.’’
They subsequently went to the woman’s place and took cash amounting to over P12 000 and further swindled amount of P50 000 from the woman’s bank account under the pretext of the further investigations.
In addition, Motube said they are currently investigating the matter and therefore warned the public to be vigilant of such characters and further reminds the public that no police officer would ask for bank cards and PINs during the investigations.
Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leadership walked out of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting this week on account of being targeted by other cooperating partners.
UDC meet for the first time since 2020 after previous futile attempts, but the meeting turned into a circus after other members of the executive pushed for BCP to explain its role in media statements that disparate either UDC and/or contracting parties.
The Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crimes (DCEC), Tymon Katlholo’s spirited fight against the contentious transfers of his management team has forced the Office of the President to rescind the controversial decision. However, some insiders suggest that the reversal of the transfers may have left some interested parties with bruised egos and nursing red wounds.
The transfers were seen by observers as a badly calculated move to emasculate the DCEC which is seen as defiant against certain objectionable objectives by certain law enforcement agencies – who are proven decisionists with very little regard for the law and principle.