8 July 2011
Swazi lawyers boycott courts over suspended judge
MBABANE — Swazi lawyers today (8 July 2011) boycotted the courts over the chief justice's decision to suspend a judge who used the phrase "forked-tongued" in a ruling that involved King Mswati III.
More than 100 lawyers gathered at the High Court in the capital Mbabane to discuss Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi's action, accusing him of bringing the judiciary into disrepute.
Last week Ramodibedi suspended judge Thomas Masuku and charged him with 12 misdemeanour offences, which included having insulted Mswati in a 2010 ruling.
Masuku is one of the few judges who has dared to be critical of Mswati, Africa's last absolute monarch.
Ramodibedi, from the nearby kingdom of Lesotho, was brought in last month by Mswati to become chief justice. One of his first acts was an order preventing anyone from "directly or indirectly" suing the king.
"It is unnecessary and in bad taste. The head of state has enough protection in the constitution," Titus Mlangeni, president of the Swaziland Law Society, told AFP.
The lawyers threatened to challenge several controversial directives by Ramodibedi, especially the king's immunity from civil suits.
"You see in-fighting amongst judges. We are losing the integrity of the courts in the eyes of the public," said attorney Thuli Makama.
Ramodibedi is also under fire over his frequent absences from the country.
He is currently in Botswana, where he sits on the appeals bench.
Swazi law is based on neighbouring South Africa's Roman Dutch system, but co-exists with customary law -- a situation that has allowed the king to circumvent the system in the past.
The attorney's boycott comes at a time when Mswati's government is battling to secure a bailout from neighbouring South Africa to ease a financial crisis that has left the government struggling to pay salaries.
Since April, the country has faced a series of rare protests by public service workers who were angered at moves to slash their salaries.