Edgar Hillary, the former Swaziland Commissioner of Police who was appointed Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs on Tuesday (21 April 2015) in the wake of a judicial scandal in which the Chief Justice and other judges have been accused of abusing power, himself has a history of contempt for the law and decisions of the court.
Hillary, along with the then (and present) Prime Minster Barnabas Dlamini, was at the centre of events in 2002 that led to Swaziland’s last major judicial crisis. At that time the entire bench of six Court of Appeal judges resigned in protest.
Hillary defied a court order that he be jailed for contempt of court and then challenged any police officer to try to arrest him.
The Swaziland High Court had found Hillary guilty of defying repeated court orders to allow a group of evicted people to return to their homes at the villages of Macetjeni and KaMkweli.
Hillary was charged along with Lubombo regional police commander Agrippa Khumalo.
The South Africa Press Association reported at the time that the saga started in 2000 when Swaziland's King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, appointed a new chief, Prince Maguga, to the area where the villagers lived. Two acting chiefs in the area refused to pay Maguga any allegiance, and the situation devolved into bloody fights between pro- and anti-Maguga factions. Eventually the police were called in to restore order and to force the rebels to leave the villages.
The rebels were later offered the opportunity to go back, on condition that they recognised the new chief. They refused, and successfully applied for a court order to allow them to return.
The Court of Appeal upheld the ruling of the High Court against the government and police commissioner. The Court of Appeal also confirmed that the order of immediate committal to prison of the police officials concerned was justified, in view of their persistent and flagrant disregard for the Court judgments.
Amnesty International reported, ‘The Commissioner [Hillary] himself was openly defiant and was reported to have declared that “only God can issue instructions for [his] arrest”’.
Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini said in late November 2002 that government would ignore the Court of Appeal ruling over Hillary because it overturned King Mswati’s power to issue laws by decree, thereby bypassing parliament.
He said on state-controlled radio, ‘The effect of the Court of Appeal’s judgments would be to strip the King of some of his powers, and the government is not prepared to sit idle and allow judges to take from the King’s powers which were granted to him by the Swazi nation.’
He added, ‘The government does not accept the judgment of the Court of Appeal in respect of the actions of the commissioner of police and his officers who acted properly and in accordance with Swazi Law and Custom.’
Six South African judges on loan to Swaziland who made up the kingdom’s highest judicial body, the Court of Appeal, resigned en masse to protest the Swazi Government’s decision to ignore their rulings.
The Council of Swaziland Churches in a statement released at the time said it feared anarchy in the kingdom, and expressed ‘greatest disappointment at the blatant abuse and disregard for the rule of law by the government’.
An unnamed Swazi attorney and Law Society member told the IPS news agency, ‘It would appear that the palace does not understand the role of the courts, that they don’t exist as mere advisory bodies to the King, as parliament and cabinet does, but they make independent rulings based on law. In a monarchy, the King’s decision is the law.’
SWAZI MINISTER OF JUSTICE ARRESTED