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Victory in High Court Case On SADC Tribunal

- Lee-Anne Bruce

The High Court has ruled that the Presidency acted unconstitutionally in supporting a resolution to suspend the SADC Tribunal

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies and our representatives at the Legal Resources Centre welcome this groundbreaking decision.

On 1 March, the Pretoria High Court handed down judgment in a matter brought by the Law Society of South Africa against the Presidency and the Ministers of Justice and Constitutional Development, and International Relations. The case concerned the Presidency’s involvement in suspending the SADC Tribunal, a regional human rights court. CALS, represented by the LRC, assisted in the matter as a ‘friend of the court’ supporting the Law Society’s arguments.

The SADC Tribunal was established in 2005 to resolve disputes involving southern African states and their citizens. In 2010, after a number of rulings against the Zimbabwean government, the Tribunal was effectively suspended. By 2014, the SADC Summit resolved that a new Tribunal should be formed and this time confined to reviewing disputes between states only, and not between states and their citizens. The South African Presidency was one of the signatories to this resolution.

In its judgment, the High Court found that the Presidency acted unlawfully and irrationally in signing the resolution. “It is clear that the President’s signature… severely undermined the crucial SADC institution, the Tribunal,” Judge President Dunstan Mlambo said. The Court further ordered that not only the applicants, but the two ‘friends of the court’ CALS and the Southern African Litigation Centre are entitled to have their legal costs for the matter covered by the state.

“The judgment reiterates the principle that the Presidency must respect the Constitution and the rule of law in the exercise of public power,” says Lisa Chamberlain, Acting Director at CALS. “We look forward to the Constitutional Court’s confirmation of this High Court judgment and what this step means for human rights in southern Africa.”

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From the Centre for Applied Legal Studies