/ 22 August 2011

Outcry over secretive hearing on Swazi judge

National and international law bodies on Monday strongly criticised the closed-door hearings conducted by Swaziland’s Judicial Service Commission (JSC) against Judge Thomas Masuku.

The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) called on the commission to “deliberate carefully” on the matter.

“The LSSA is concerned that the hearing by the JSC in Swaziland against Swazi High Court Judge Thomas Masuku went ahead behind closed doors earlier this month.

“This was despite calls from the Law Society of Swaziland, the SADC Lawyers Association (SADC LA) and civil society organisations … to hold the hearing — which dealt with alleged misconduct on the part of Judge Masuku — in public,” it said in a statement.

The SADC LA had also made funding available for outside observers to attend the hearing.

“The LSSA urges the JSC in Swaziland to deliberate carefully on the matter against Judge Masuku as the outcome of the matter will have serious ramifications for the independence of the judiciary and the profession in a country [with] which South Africa has such close ties.

“The LSSA joins other regional legal bodies in expressing grave concern about the turbulence and uncertainty in the judiciary in Swaziland, and what appears to be a breakdown in the rule of law and good governance,” it said.

According to reports, among the more serious charges brought against Masuku at the JSC hearing which ended on August 11, was that he had associated with elements seeking unlawful “regime change” in Swaziland, and that he had sought to destabilise high court judges and staff.

It was further alleged, among other things, that he had engaged in an illicit love affair with a judicial colleague.

In June this year, Judge Masuku was suspended for allegedly insulting Swaziland’s King Mswati III.

Swaziland Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi told the BBC at the time that Masuku was accused of using the expression “forked-tongued” in a ruling referring to the king.

In a separate statement on Monday, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the SADC LA and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) described the charges that were levelled against Masuku as “obviously misdirected and unsubstantiated”.

They noted that the Swaziland JSC had met last Friday, a full week after the hearing of the charges against Masuku.

“Yet no decision has been communicated, nor have reasons been provided by the JSC, for the rulings made during the JSC’s hearing of August 11.

“The ICJ, SADC LA and SALC believe that the failure on the part of the JSC to expeditiously resolve the Judge Masuku matter, when his hearing involved such obviously misdirected and unsubstantiated charges, only further underlines the judicial crisis existing in Swaziland.”

The three organisations said in the statement that they were “dismayed at the unfairness and irregularity of the initial charges put to Judge Masuku and of the subsequent hearing and attendant process”. — Sapa