At the last count (2014), a particular category of respondents in an Afrobarometer survey roundly applauded Botswana’s judges and magistrates for not accepting bribes. That feedback provided adequate confidence for the researchers to assert that “Batswana boast an exceptionally clean judicial system, with 0 percent reporting bribe payment.” To an extent, that may have something to do with Botswana’s colonial past.
Respondents who reported contact with the courts were asked: How often, if ever, did you have to pay a bribe, give a gift, or do a favour for a judge or court official in order to get the assistance you needed from the courts? Whereas 65 percent of respondents in Sierra Leone, 20 percent in Zimbabwe and 5 percent in South Africa confessed to having paid a bribe to get assistance from the courts, no one (0 percent) said so in Botswana. The country is joined by several other countries in Southern Africa ÔÇô Namibia (1 percent), Mauritius (1 percent), Lesotho (3 percent), and South Africa (5 percent).
However, in no way do judicial officers come out of this survey smelling of roses. Among 14 percent of respondents, there was perception that judges and magistrates are “corrupt.” This might be confusing to some but the bribery percentages relate to respondents who reported contact with the courts. Some 28 percent of the respondents also think that Botswana judges “don’t listen.”
The survey ranked each country as scoring “low,” “medium,” or “high” (relative to other countries) on each of the following indicators: “trust in courts”, “corruption in courts”, “ease of obtaining assistance from courts”, “paid bribe in courts” and “experienced problems in courts.” Alongside Lesotho and Cape Verde, Botswana is among countries that are “performing best in terms of providing their citizens with the highest extent and quality of access to justice.” All these countries rank in the best category across all five quality indicators.
In analysing the survey data, the researchers discerned an interesting pattern. A country’s colonial legacy, especially as manifested in the nature of its inherited legal framework, affected its score.
“Broadly speaking, the French and Portuguese bequeathed their former colonies civil law systems, while the British left in place common law systems of justice. These different legal traditions may have significant implications not just for legal codes and practices, but also in terms of the quality of protection for human rights and provision of equitable access to justice,” says Afrobarometer, noting that former French colonies fare somewhat worse, with just two (Niger and Senegal) ranking among top performers while five (C├┤te d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, and Togo) rank among the worst. “Among former Portuguese colonies, Cape Verde is one of the top-performing countries in terms of access to justice, but Mozambique and S├úo Tom├® and Pr├¡ncipe are quite far down the scale.”