“Just another day in the life of the Tanzanian legal system”
Competent adjudicators should have no mortal fear of reporters
By Karl Lyimo
Sunday, 24 April 2011 12:51
On April 16, local papers reported a ban by the Kisutu Resident Magistrate's Court in Dar es Salaam that mass media organs mustn't publish the proceedings of a civil case involving two tycoons in the nation's de facto capital.
Apparently, one magnate, Yusuf Manji, has sued another magnate, Reginald Mengi, for defamation. I won't go into the details of the plaint here. But, reportedly, Manji is seeking payment of a single Tanzania shilling (in punitive damages?) from Mengi if the latter is found in breach of defamation laws or some such!
Judging by their past 'antics' (for lack of a better term), both Gentlemen are filthy rich. That's about the only reason they throw millions as a matter of course at charitable and other causes, including supporting community projects and sporting causes – especially soccer.
That also explains why Manji is seeking only a single shilling – assuming he wins the litigation!
That's the equivalent of $0.066666667... Is it worth going to such unimaginably lengthy, costly, embarrassing processes for that? I don't know...
But, obviously, the litigant isn't in this for the money... And that's what adds spice to the case, making it that much more piquant!
My concern here, though, is about the ban on members of the mass media fraternity reporting on the case 'sub judice,' in the course of trial.However, the top-class Magistrate who imposed the ban, one Ilvin Mgeta, was magnanimous enough to declare the proceedings open to the public.
But, not many Tanzanians can afford (in ways more than one, including time and the fare) to attend court. That's when Freedom of the Press steps in the breach, feeding millions with details of the proceedings day-by-day.
In any case, what'd be the point of holding an open court – and then banning the Press from reporting the proceedings?
Surely, there must be laws which provide for remedial action against erring 'individual' media organs? Proven 'offenders' among them can then selectively be censured, instead of imposing a collective punishment on as broad a level as that!
Such 'offences' were prevalent in the past, when proceedings were hand-recorded as against direct electronic/digital recording today.
Where (say) a Magistrate thought certain 'testimony' was irrelevant or of no other evidential value, he omitted recording same... But, reporters who heard and liked the testimony (unwittingly?) published it. That was wherein lay the bone of contention between Courts and the Press!
But, putting the entire Press Corps 'sub modo' – under condition or restriction – is also counterproductive in senses more than one. For one, it's going to be very difficult to convict any one reporting the proceedings of 'contempt of court.'
Generally, this is when one has disobeyed, or been disrespectful of, the court's authority... And, especially, where such conduct is likely to prejudice the fair trial of an accused person.
Secondly, I remember a remark by a Tanzania High Court Judge years ago to the effect that Judges (and, indeed, Magistrates) shouldn't be unduly influenced in their decisions by extraneous matter – such as press reports and gossip/rumour – on cases under their jurisdiction.
That salutary remark could have been a formal ruling, or obiter dictum; I can't remember now. In any case, it's full of sense...
An adjudicator resplendent in unquestioned magisterial calibre should never, ever succumb to extraneous pressure/influence(s). Any one doing so has business being at the Bench or any other Hallowed Hall of Justice, Amen!
Hence the need to review the Press ban the Mengi-Manji case in soonest – and avoid similar moves ever. This will help preserve the dignity, calibre and confidence of our Judicial System. Cheers!