Mbabane: On Monday 3 November 2014, the Swaziland Supreme Court will hear an appeal brought by the country’s Chief Justice against a High Court order that ruled that the arrest and detention of lawyer Thulani Maseko and journalist Bheki Makhubu was unlawful and unconstitutional.
In April 2014, soon after their arrest on contempt of court charges, Maseko and Makhubu lodged an application for the High Court to set aside their warrants of arrest and to declare that their detention pending the commencement of their criminal trial was unlawful.
Judge Mumcy Dlamini found in their favour and ordered that they be released as the arrest warrants had not complied with the law and because the Chief Justice’s personal connection to the case disqualified him from issuing the warrants. However, days after this ruling, fresh warrants of arrest were issued and Maseko and Makhubu were rearrested and later convicted of contempt of court and sentenced to two years in prison.
“The Maseko and Makhubu case has illustrated an assortment of problems with the Swazi judicial system – not least its failure to adhere to correct procedure,” said Nicole Fritz, Executive Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC). “This appeal now provides the Supreme Court with an opportunity to clarify the rules around the contempt of court offence.”
The Chief Justice has argued that the High Court has no authority to set aside a decision taken by him.
“Judicial accountability and legal certainty are fundamental principles in any political system and are particularly important in criminal matters where the liberty of individuals is at stake,” Fritz said. “The Swazi Constitution protects the right of all people to have their criminal trial decided by an independent and impartial court. Swazi citizens have a right to know that if they are charged with crimes, the judicial officers involved will adhere to the Constitution.”