Here are this week’s headlines:
- Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed as new South African President
Reported by Sarah Mullane
After several unsettled years, and an even more tumultuous few days, Jacob Zuma has resigned as South Africa’s president. Despite his repeated refusal to stand down at the request of his own party, the African National Congress (ANC), the former president made the announcement of his departure late on Wednesday.
During his nine years in office, Zuma had been plagued by a series of corruption allegations, which had divided his party and pushed away an array of party loyalists. Once a revered activist of the anti-apartheid movement, Zuma’s legacy has been tainted by his “failure to deliver on the promises of post-apartheid south Africa” as the country remains one of the world’s most unequal. The current living conditions of many black South African’s is comparable to those “endured under the white-nationalist government”, a far cry from the promises made by Zuma at the beginning of his presidency.
Prompted by the planned vote of no-confidence due to take place the following day, Zuma addressed the nation and declared that, though he did not fear a motion of no confidence, he would be resigning with immediate effect. As a result, deputy-president Cyril Ramaphosa immediately took over interim leadership.
On Thursday morning, less than 16 hours after Zuma’s resignation, South Africa’s chief justice announced that Ramaphosa had been formally elected president via parliamentary vote. During his resulting speech, Ramaphosa declared South Africa to be coming out of a “period of uncertainty, a period of darkness, and getting into a new phase”, and has pledged that he will not disappoint in his presidency.
- First online courtroom technology to be piloted in tax appeal tribunals
Reported by Jutha Cheewat
A new courtroom system will be piloted and conducted over secure cameras and audio connections. The first online court hearing will allow claimants and their lawyers to attend hearings at home rather than in court.
This programme is part of the £1bn modernisation programme by the Ministry of Justice that includes the already implemented online divorce process (click here for more on online divorce).
The system will allow judges to assess evidence online and communicate via a free programme, available to download from the internet. The first hearing will take place in March and April this year.
However, there was already evidence of the system’s ineffectiveness as judge Sir Brian Leveson had to order John Worboys, the serial sex attacker (read more here), to be brought to court because video links had repeatedly failed earlier that week. This is despite the government having spent more than £30m on consultation with Pricewaterhouse Coopers.
That said, justice minister Lucy Frazer responded, saying that “we are spending £1bn on transforming and modernising the justice system. Video hearings have the potential to improve access to justice and speed up cases […] This pilot will provide important information – together with an increasing body of evidence from other countries – to drive innovation to make the wider system quicker, smarter and much more user-friendly”.
- Brexit: Article 50 review case decision to be appealed
Reported by Anna Flaherty
Last week, a cross-party group of politicians went to court in order to seek the permission of the UK Court of Session to go to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to get a ruling as to whether or not Brexit could be called off, were the UK to change its stance. They have done so with the purpose of “providing clarity to inform the democratic process”.
The Judge, Lord Doherty, refused to allow the action to proceed on the basis that their “prospect of success falls very far short”. He continued by saying that “given that neither parliament nor the government has any wish to withdraw the notification […] [the question whether or not it could be done unilaterally] is hypothetical and academic”.
As a result, the said group of politicians are appealing the decision. The appeal will go to the the Inner House of the Court of Session. QC Jo Maugham of the Good Law Project, who are backing the cross-party group of politicians, said that he would go “to the Supreme Court if necessary”. He went on to say that it is “in the national interest that MPs, MEPs and MSPs, who face a choice whether to approve Theresa May’s deal, know what options are open to them if they don’t.” The issue may not be so “hypothetical” is the majority of Parliament do not wish to support the final deal that Theresa May makes with the EU.
Amidst these actions, Nicola Sturgeon has written to Theresa May to express her frustration at the lack of engagement the government has had with the UK’s devolved administrations. The fact that such a large number of MP’s are already uneasy about the prospective Brexit deal suggests that this legal judgment may have greater significance in the upcoming future than it seemingly does now.
- Divorcing couples may clash over Bitcoin
Reported by Nathan Gore
Recently fears have been growing that the usage of cryptocurrency may impede settlements during divorce hearings. Lawyers have recently been suggesting that people involved in divorce proceedings may take advantage of the anonymous nature of these digital curriences, in order to hide a large portion of their wealth. Jacqueline Fitzgerald, partner at Wilsons law firm, said: “Proving that one spouse has a substantial holding in a cryptocurrency and adding that to the marital assets can be a big problem.”
Therefore, many have taken the step of warning spouses to not try to go down this route, and to list all of their assets that they possess. There is no specific guidance from the Ministry of Justice itself, particularly because of the unknown nature of many of these currencies. However, the Advice Now guide, drafted by the Family Justice Council, says that both parties “need to be honest about what you own and what income you have”.
In one particular example, the husband had invested £80,000 ($110,000) in a digital currency, which are now worth £600,000 ($830,000). Courts may at this point often be at a loss with how to deal with such assets.
Timeframes are also an issue, with regards to the current volatility of many cryptocurrencies. With divorce proceedings often taking many months, if not stretching over a year, multiple valuations of any digital monetary assets would need to be taken.
This is an issue that is likely only to increase in the coming months and years, owing to the continued proliferation of cyrptocurrencies.