Thursday, September 24, 2020

Lawyers conference set stage for constitutional law reform

A high profile conference of lawyers held under the auspices of the African Network of Constitutional Lawyers (ANCL) at the University of Botswana a few weeks ago may have laid a powerful foundation for critical dialogue on Constitutional reform in Botswana despite what presently appears to be a passive appreciation of constitutionalism by politicians in this country.

The development is seen as positive although concern has been expressed  that the discussion in the country on constitutional reform currently tends to revolve only or mainly around the independence of the Executive and its overriding influence over other arms of government, which hasn’t gone any far off the ground.

Professor Bugalo Maripe, a Senior Law Lecturer at the University of Botswana (UB), also one of the organizers of the ANCL conference quiped that unfortunately there is still naive attitude among politicians, academics and other stakeholders generally, that “If ain’t broken why fix it,” adding that it is nonetheless a redeemable thinking since even some key members of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party are beginning to see things differently.”

It is expected that at least in the initial term one of the trickle down effects will be in the form of lessons and experiences shared through documented presentations and constant appraisal of developments around the continent and the world inspired by the ANCL activities.

Maripe told the Sunday Standard that in addition, “When Judges and Attorneys hear these cases and experiences that will enable them to see things in line with the need to reform, and for those of us who do litigation we can receive these cases and use them before the courts in matters in which we appear.”

The central theme of the biennial Conference was captured as, “Courts, Power and Constitutional Law in Africa”.The objective of the conference were among others to determine to what extent the social,economic and political power enjoyed by the political elites, citizens or social movements contribute to the creation or success of judicial review at national level. Whether based on the outcome, Africa should consider rethinking its own understanding of the separation of powers between the arms of government in furtherance of good governcane.

There was also the question of whether the courts have any role in and influence constitutional reform and ammendment of processes, as well as to consider the effects and implications of the expansive role of regional and sub regional tribunals on the design, powers, and practice of domestic constitutional courts.

To highlight some of the challenges which Constitutional Lawyers and others stakeholders with interest in matters that verge on constitional law reform, including in particular the courts in Botswana, are seized with, Chief Justice of Botswana, Justice Rannowane had this to say,”…Such challenges present themselves in the form of laws which have a colonial influence at times so domineering to the extent that it hampers the attainment of justice.” Rannowane further identified the other challenge as the ever changing needs of the society especially in African states where laws are perhaps slow to catch up with such demands.”

Professor David Bilchtz,Secretary General of the International Association of Constitutional Lawyers, representing the President of the Association pointed out that the gathering was to serve as an important source of hope for the many who ares struggling in their different countries and domain to change the status quo.

“We have excellent legal minds across Africa who are not merely satisfied with flawed constituions; you are the people who are assrting and fighting for a commitment to the basic values of constitutionalism in our societies…, “…It is for this reason that the power of the network is so important. If you are feeling alone in Uganda standing for human rights, you know that you have coleagues who are committed to similar values in Benin, Togo and Botswana.

Bilchtz posited that not only are they a network of solidarity, but such a network can help encourage an understanding of developments in jurisprudence and thinking across the world that can in turn influence local jurisdictions.

Botswana has never had any serious constitutional changes ever since the Constitutional instruments  agreed upon in the United Kingdom were conferred here to the incoming Administration at Independence in 1966 by Her Majesty Princesss Marina on behalf of her aunt.

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