A new evidence manual for judicial officers was unveiled at the Palais de Justice auditorium on Friday 29 September 2023.
The academic work, “A Practical Approach to Evidence for Judicial Officers – Common law sources and African applications”, is the result of a collaborative effort involving Justice of Appeal, Dr. Mathilda Twomey, as the main writer and editor, and collaborators Joelle Barnes, Masters students from Cornell Law School in New York led by Professor Jocelyn Hackett, and Michelle St. Ange Ebrahim.
At the launch, President of the Republic Wavel Ramkalawan, who is also the Chancellor of the University of Seychelles, and Chief Justice Rony Govinden were presented with the first copies.
Aside from her role as Justice of Appeal in Seychelles, Dr. Twomey is also Academic Director of the Judicial Institute for Africa (JIFA) at the University of Cape Town, which is a partnership between the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit (DGRU) and the Southern African Chief Justices Forum (SACJF). Dr. Twomey’s dual role inspired the manual.
Drawing from her experience as a trial judge in Seychelles, Dr. Twomey highlighted the challenges she faced in resolving issues related to the admissibility of evidence quickly. This was important to ensure that trials proceeded efficiently yet fairly.
The manual delves into the historical roots of evidence law in the common-law, its evolution, and its practical applications in thirteen countries in southern and eastern Africa. These nations, including Botswana, Eswatini, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, all share a colonial history. This history involved the introduction of British common-law principles of evidence law through cases and colonial Evidence Acts or Criminal Procedure Codes.
“The law of evidence is something which I believe Seychellois would like to understand better, because I think that a number who have exposure to court cannot understand when the judge states that they cannot accept certain evidence. There are a few rules. Even if sometimes we would like to do a case a certain way, we cannot do it a certain way as we have to follow proof laws or evidence laws.
“My target is Attorneys and law students in Seychelles, especially considering the recent launch of the University of Seychelles’ new degree programme focusing on Seychelles’ laws. This book will be a valuable resource for them,” Dr. Twomey added.
She pointed out that this manual doesn’t cover everything about evidence law, as it is extensive. Instead, it focuses on the most crucial topics to help judges.
In the first part of each chapter, it explains the basic principles of the law related to that topic and how it has changed over time, even after these countries gained independence. It also looks at how similar laws work in other common-law countries to give context.
The last part of every chapter offers a concise look at how the same area of law operates in each of the countries researched.
Conducting research across numerous jurisdictions posed a challenge, especially in African regions where a consistent history of publishing legislation and case law is not always evident. Fortunately, the AfricanLII and LII initiatives, operating on a global scale, have played a significant role in addressing this issue. The existence of SeyLII and similar Legal Information Institutes (LIIs) across Africa proved to be fundamental to the creation of the manual, Dr. Twomey added.
The manual was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Project Development Specialist for Democracy and Governance of USAID Pretoria, Paula Van Dyck, briefly spoke about the relationship between USAID and Judicial Institute for Africa (JIFA), dating back to ten years ago.
Ms. Van Dyck emphasized the significance of comprehending the needs of end users when crafting instructional manuals. She commended JIFA for its efforts in capacity building despite having limited resources, adding that the progress made thus far is significant.
Closing the ceremony, Head of Public Relations and Events for the Judiciary, Sasha Alis, noted, “Today, we have celebrated a collaborative effort that brings us together, uniting our legal realms in pursuit of enhanced jurisprudence. This Manual has been a labor of love and expertise by Justice Twomey and the co-authors and we congratulate them on this milestone success.”
Those interested in purchasing the Evidence Manual can contact Ms. Gaetanne Gonthier in the Court of Appeal on 428102 / 428101. Copies of the book are sold for SCR 500.