King Mswati III, the absolute monarch in Swaziland, stands in the way of the kingdom having independent judges, an international group of jurists has stated.
In a submission to the United Nations, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) called for an overhaul of laws and regulations in Swaziland to take power away from the King.
A United Nations group is to investigate Swaziland’s record on human rights next April and May 2016.
Ahead of that investigation, the ICJ which is composed of 60 eminent judges and lawyers from all regions of the world has submitted a report in which it reviewed the state of the kingdom’s judiciary over the past few years.
The report to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland stated that King Mswati had too much influence in the appointment of judges.
The ICJ stated, ‘The judges’ appointment process continues to pose a threat to judicial independence and impartiality. The Constitution of Swaziland provides that the judges are appointed by the King after consultation with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
‘The King has the ultimate and final say in respect of the appointments to the bench.
‘Moreover, the composition of the JSC and the appointment of its members undermine confidence in the independent discharge of its mandate, including the consultative role in the appointment of judges. The JSC is chaired by the Chief Justice, and in addition comprises two legal practitioners, the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission and two other persons. All of these individuals are appointed by the King.’
The ICJ added, ‘In addition, some recent judicial appointments have given rise to concern about the lack of qualification of those appointed. Certain appointments have been publicly questioned by Swaziland’s legal practitioners and by the Law Society.
‘The appointment of contract judges, by the King upon request of the Chief Justice, also serves to undermine the security of tenure of judges, and it places the contract judges at risk of manipulation by the Crown and the judicial hierarchy.’
The ICJ called for an overhaul of the legal system in Swaziland. ‘The authorities of Swaziland must immediately review the laws and regulations pertaining to the JSC with a view to bringing them in line with regional and international law and standards, including by removing the Crown’s [the King’s] control over the JSC’s composition,’ it said.
It said this would allow for public, transparent and fair appointment and removal processes of judges, ‘including public announcement of any vacancies in the judiciary, and ensuring the full participation of all concerned stakeholders’.
The ICJ also noted that King Mswati was personally immune from the law. It stated that in 2011, ‘the then Chief Justice Ramodibedi issued a Practice Directive ordering the non-registration of lawsuits that challenge the King “directly or indirectly”, effectively barring access to justice in any case against corporations, companies, trust or any entities in which the King owns shares or has an interest.’
In Swaziland, political parties are not allowed to contest elections, the King chooses the government and no members of the kingdom’s Senate are elected by the people. Groups that advocate for multi-party democracy have been banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
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