On Sunday 9th October I arrived in a chilly Cape Town to assist Dame Linda Dobbs, Vanja Karth and Justice Oagile Dingake (a High Court Judge in Botswana and a visiting professor at the University of Cape Town) in a week-long training course for 20 High Court and Supreme Court judges. They came from various sub-Saharan African states from Sierra Leone to the Seychelles (but not from Nigeria or Zimbabwe). The course was organised by the recently formed Judicial Institute for Africa (JIFA) which is currently based at the University of Cape Town. A legal journalist, Carmel Rickard, was there as an informed observer.
The theme of the course was Human Rights – Law and Practice, An introductory course for judges in Africa. It was intended to provide judges with the means to incorporate international human rights and humanitarian principles into their judgments when such issues arise. The first stage was to inform them of what those rights are, where they are to be found and how they can be absorbed into domestic law. That involved lectures from experts in international human rights and humanitarian law explaining the sources of that law and the processes for giving effect to it. In addition to a number of distinguished speakers who addressed the judges, Lord Justice Fulford, Justice Kate O’Regan (formerly of the South African Constitutional Court) and Professor Sandy Fredman (Oxford) gave presentations by pre-recorded video.
Part of the programme involved practical exercises in which all the judges considered human rights issues in the context of a series of hypothetical cases which were created by me and Tseliso Thipanyane, an advocate and chief executive of the Safer South Africa Foundation. He and I acted as opposing advocates in the hypothetical cases. The judges then went into breakout groups and discussed what human rights issues were involved, what provisions in international and regional instruments seemed to apply, and how those principles could be incorporated into judgments based upon their respective constitutional and substantive law. The discussions were long and often ended in a majority judgment being delivered by each group.
The final part of the course was a handout and presentation on how to structure a judgment, drafted by Justice Oagile Dingake and me, using one of his judgments as a teaching model.
The obvious exhaustion of the judges by the end of the course was testimony to how hard they – and we – worked. It is hoped they will keep in regular contact with one another by email, so that they do not feel isolated when they return to courts where their fellow judges may not yet be similarly skilled. Sadly, a few days after the course ended, the government of South Africa announced that it was withdrawing from the International Criminal Court.
Click here to read the full report on the training, written by Carmel Rickard.