Like many people, I have been holed up in my residence in keeping with a recently-imposed lockdown as the world responds to Covid-19.
The lockdown gave me a little more time for mental improvement through reading and I elected to read one of three remarkable books recently written by Judge Oagile Key Dingake, PhD. Judge Dingake is a citizen of Botswana and former Judge of the High Court of Botswana.
He is now with the Supreme and National Courts of Papua New Guinea.
One of his new books is entitled ‘Judges’. Notion Press of India recently published the book, which runs into 362 pages. It is now available on Amazon and other online book platforms.
This book discusses the work of judges, highlighting judicial values that are essential for earning and retaining public confidence in the judiciary. These values include independence, impartiality, integrity, propriety, equality, competence and diligence. These core values, commonly referred to as the ‘Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct’, were agreed upon by the Judicial Integrity Group in Bangalore, India, in February 2001. In 2003, the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) endorsed the above principles, which are considered amongst common and civil law jurisdictions as the authoritative statement on the values that should inform judicial conduct.
In it, Judge Dingake argues that judges must be independent and impartial. For him, independence means, inter alia, that a judge should not take any instructions from anyone or be influenced in any way in determining any matter. Impartiality means a judge should treat the parties before him/her equally, providing them with equal opportunity to say their side of the story.
He emphasises that a judge should have no personal interest in the outcome of a case. He takes the view that every judge is a product of his/her time and that it is through this prism that his/her objectivity must be assessed and critiqued. The purpose of objectivity, according to Judge Dingake, is to be dispassionate. He concedes that this objectivity is difficult but attainable.
Judge Dingake compellingly makes the case that the primary function of a judge is to dispense justice. Where there exists – as happens often in most things of life – an asymmetry of power; it has always been a revered principle of liberty and freedom that judges are no respecters of persons but the law, and that they are ever vigilant to ensure any governmental action is justified.
Judge Dingake’s considered view is that today’s judgment is required to give effect to the values of a pluralistic society that cherishes democracy, human rights, tolerance and diversity. Indeed, this book exemplifies these values.
It took me a while to begin reading this book because I thought I would find it complicated. I was a touch apprehensive and feared I would encounter legal jargon and thus struggle to understand the book’s pith or fulcrum. This is because legal practitioners – among whom Judge Dingake, unfortunately, numbers – are notorious for communicating in tongues. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book is written in simple English and with breath-taking clarity.
Judge Dingake introduces the issues discussed in each chapter, proceeds to do exactly that – and at the end of each chapter, he gathers the threads together to summarise the key message. One does not need to be a lawyer to understand the message of this book. For me, the key message I got is that in a democracy, constitutions matter and it falls upon judges to breathe life into the constitution – an important instrument for safeguarding lives and rights.
Judge Dingake’s style reminded me yet again of a few of the legendary Lord Denning’s writings that I have read. Like Lord Denning, Judge Dingake writes simply and uses short sentences to devastating effect. Small wonder why Dingake is regarded as Botswana’s Lord Denning. However, their writing styles also differ significantly. Where Lord Dinning writes in prose, Judge Dingake tends to be scholarly and even philosophical. Both their works are fun to read and are persuasive.
Notably, in this book, Judge Dingake candidly discusses the dilemma judges face when deciding difficult cases such as those concerning the death penalty, abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriages. Although he remains quite balanced and dispassionate in his discussions of the issues, it is not difficult to tell where he stands.
Some of his valuable insights come in when he discusses the question of whether judges make law or not. In discussing these issues, his experiences, vast scholarship and knowledge come into full display. It is clear to me that Judge Dingake manages his time wisely. Not many judges can write so many books and still manage to deliver sound judgments in time.
In this book, Judge Dingake reminds the reader that perhaps the most important part of a judge’s task is fact-finding; that judging is primarily about finding facts and applying the law to those facts. He writes that once you have the facts, the law tends to take care of itself.
There are many messages to take home from reading Judge Dingake’s book. However, for me, the key one is that judges should not be beholden to political power. There is also a lighter side of the book, like when Judge Dingake quotes John D. Voelker as saying of judges: “Judges,… may be divided roughly into four classes; judges with neither head nor heart – they are to be avoided at all costs; judges with the head, but no heart – they are almost as bad; then judges with the heart but no head – risky but better than the first two, and finally, those judges who possess both a head and a heart.”
I highly recommend this book to everyone interested in the work of judges and the importance of law to our daily survival.
*Winner of the SADC Media Award (2008) and 10 other journalistic awards, Moses Magadza is a PhD student with research interests in framing, agenda-setting, priming and critical discourse analysis.