The European Union Ambassador to Swaziland Nicola Bellomo has severely criticised the legal system in the kingdom ruled by autocratic monarch King Mswati III. He said even a child could be made a judge.
Bellomo who is soon to leave Swaziland told the Nation Magazine the rule of law did not prevail in Swaziland.
The Nation, an independent magazine of comment in a kingdom where censorship and self-censorship is rife, reported (August 2017), ‘The judiciary in this country has yet to find its footing and earn the respect it once had. It is a mess, right now. But, at least, there’s an acknowledgement that there is still a lot of work to do to get the country's judicial system on the right track. A country that has the kind of judicial system we have, where even a child can become a judge, cannot attract investment.’
The Nation called Bellomo’s comments ‘a scathing attack at the judiciary’.
The magazine reported Bellomo saying, ‘On the rule of law, there are structural problems beyond the political issues. If you have courts with ten judges who can hardly meet the expectations of the country, then you have structural issues.
‘Then of course you have issues with the judges, like the one who was allowed to sit on the bench and yet did not qualify. That is something shocking for a rule of law country.’
Bellomo is not the first to draw attention to Swaziland’s broken legal system. In February 2016, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) reported King Mswati III’s absolute monarchy in Swaziland ‘ultimately is incompatible with a society based on the rule of law’
The report, Justice Locked Out: Swaziland’s Rule of Law Crisis, called on Swaziland’s Constitution to be amended to bring it in line ‘with regional and universal international law and standards, in particular on the separation of powers and respect for judicial independence.’
An international mission investigated Swaziland following the attempted arrest and the impeachment of former Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi and the arrest of the Minister of Justice Sibusiso Shongwe, two High Court judges Mpendulo Simelane and Jacobus Annandale and High Court Registrar Fikile Nhlabatsi in April 2015.
The report stated the judicial crisis was ‘part of a worrying trend of repeated interference by the Executive and of the Judiciary’s inability to defend its independence, exacerbated by apparent strife within the ruling authorities of Swaziland.
‘Swaziland’s Constitution, while providing for judicial independence in principle, does not contain the necessary safeguards to guarantee it. Overall, the legislative and regulatory framework falls short of international law and standards, including African regional standards.’
It added, ‘The mission found that some members of the Judiciary have exercised their mandate with a lack of integrity and professionalism. In particular, former Chief Justice Ramodibedi failed to protect and defend the institutional independence of the Judiciary, and played a reprehensible role in undermining both the institutional independence of the Judiciary and that of individual judges in Swaziland.
‘He also presided over, or was involved in the case allocation of, legal proceedings in which he had a personal interest or in which he acted at the apparent behest of members of the Executive, further undermining the independence and impartiality of the Judiciary.
‘Based upon its independent research, including its consultations with various stakeholders, the fact-finding mission determined that this latest crisis has served to expose already existing divisions within and between the Judiciary and the Executive. The consequence has been an abuse of the justice system to settle political scores, further damaging the independence of the Judiciary in the process.
‘Overall, the events that triggered the international fact-finding mission are both a reflection of a systemic crisis and potentially a contributing factor to its deepening further. In light of its findings, this report includes the fact-finding mission’s recommendations for reform to the Crown, Executive and Legislature, the Judiciary, the legal profession, the international community and civil society, which it considers will strengthen the rule of law, respect for human rights and access to justice and effective remedies in the Kingdom of Swaziland.’
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