SUMMARY OF FACTS
1. The complaint is filed by Womenís Legal Centre, Tanzania, on behalf of
Sophia Moto, an unemployed Tanzanian woman of 40 years old.
2. The complainant alleges that she petitioned to the magistrate of Dar es
Salaam in 1995 and appealed to the High Court of Tanzania in 1997 for the
dissolution of her marriage to one Anthony Lazima, division of matrimonial
assets, and damages from an illicit cohabitation of the latter with one
Bertha Athanas. She claims that the High Court, which is part of the
Tanzanian judiciary, dismissed her appeal on the ground of her
non-appearance on the date set for the hearing.
3. The complainant states that she had applied to the same High Court for a
review of the said decision, but the High Court overruled the application.
Under the laws of Tanzania, such an exercise of applying for review before
the same High Court bars one from appealing against the decision of the same
to the Court of Appeal of Tanzania. The complainant alleges that she could
not thus seize the highest court in the country.
4. She, therefore, alleges that the High Court, in so dismissing her appeal
without having issued summons or notice to her notifying her of the date for
the hearing of the appeal, violated her rights to fair trial and hearing.
The same decision also resulted in the wrongful denial of her right to the
5. The complainant claims that she has exhausted all the national remedies
available to pursue her rights and that the present claim has not been or is
not being considered by any other human rights treaty monitoring body.
6. The complainant alleges violation of articles 7 and 14 of the African
Charter on Human and Peoplesí Rights.
7. The complainant prays for a declaration that the respondent state
provides her with appropriate remedies in accordance with the laws of
Tanzania, and for any other relief the Commission deems just and fit.
8. The complaint was dated 10 October 2001 and received at the Secretariat
on 7 December 2001.
9. On 24 January 2002, the Secretariat wrote to the complainant
acknowledging receipt of the complaint, informing her of the entering of the
same in the Commissionís register, its number in the latter, and its having
been scheduled for consideration by the Commission at its 31st ordinary
session taking place from 2 to 16 May 2002.
10. At its 31st ordinary session held from 2 to 16 May 2002 in Pretoria,
South Africa, the African Commission considered the complaint and decided to
be seized thereof.
11. On 28 May 2002, the Secretariat wrote to the complainant and the
respondent state of this decision and requested them to forward their
submissions on admissibility before the 32nd ordinary session of the
12. On 9 September 2002, the complainant requested further time for
submission of further information on the issue.
13. At its 32nd ordinary session held from 17 to 23 October 2002 in Banjul,
The Gambia, the African Commission examined the complaint and decided to
defer its consideration on admissibility to the 33rd ordinary session.
14. On 7 November 2002, the Secretariat wrote to the complainants and
respondent state to inform them of this decision and further remind them to
forward their submissions on admissibility of the same before the 33rd
ordinary session of the Commission.
15. On 3 April 2003, the Secretariat of the African Commission wrote to the
parties informing them that it still awaited their submissions on the
admissibility of the complaint and further reminded them to forward the same
before the 33rd ordinary session of the Commission.
16. At its 33rd ordinary session held in Niamey, Niger from 15 to 29 May
2003, the African Commission considered the communication and declared it
17. On 12 June 2003, the Secretariat wrote to the complainant and respondent
state informing them of this decision and further reminding them to forward
their written submissions on merits of the same before the 34th ordinary
session of the Commission.
18. A similar reminder was resent to the respondent state on 3 July 2003 and
to both parties on 6 August 2003.
19. On 3 October 2003, the Secretariat received the respondent stateís
written submissions to the communication, which was forwarded to the
complainant on 6 October 2003, which was received, per DHLís online Global
Tracking facility, on 13 October 2003.
20. At its 34th ordinary session held in Banjul, The Gambia from 6 to 20
November 2003, the African Commission examined the complaint and decided to
defer its consideration on merits to the 35th ordinary session.
21. On 8 and 9 December 2003, the Secretariat wrote to the complainant and
the respondent state respectively informing them of this decision and
further requesting the latter to forward to the African Commission a copy of
the countryís civil procedure code and the former its response to the
written submissions of the respondent state before the 35th ordinary
22. On 13 January 2004, the complainant sent its written submissions
accordingly, which were forwarded to the respondent state on 11 February
23. On 17 February 2004, the respondent state forwarded a copy of the
countryís civil procedure code through the African Unionís office in Addis
24. At its 35th ordinary session held in Banjul, The Gambia from 21 May to 4
June 2004, the African Commission examined the complaint and decided to
defer its decision on the merits to the 36th ordinary session.
25. On 17 June 2004, the Secretariat informed both parties of this decision.
26. At its 36th ordinary session held from 23 November to 7 December 2004,
in Dakar, Senegal, the African Commission considered the communication and
took a decision on the merits.
27. Article 56 of the African Charter governs admissibility of
communications brought before the African Commission. In this regard, the
African Commission notes that the respondent stateís only challenge on the
ad-missibility of this communication concerned itself with article 56(5)
under which it claimed that the dismissal of the application for review was
done by a court of competent jurisdiction and in accordance with its laws.
For the purposes of the said sub-article, however, this claim does not
refute the complainantís claim that she could not seize the highest court in
Tanzania for the reason that she opted to apply for a review of the decision
of the High Court that dismissed her application.
28. For this reason, the African Commission decided to declare this
communication admissible at its 33rd ordinary session held in Niamey, Niger
from 15 to 29 May 2003.
29. As can be seen in paragraph 2 above, the complaint arose out of the
Tanzanian High Courtís decision to dismiss the complainantís civil case
appeal for the dissolution of marriage on the ground that she failed to
appear on the date set for the hearing irrespective of the fact that she was
not served with summons or notice notifying her of the date for the same. In
seizing the African Commission, she alleged that the Courtís decision, an
institution of the respondent state, denied her right to fair trial, and (as
the original case before the Lower Magistrate Court related to dissolution
of property as well) her right to the matrimonial property.
30. The complainant further alleges, in her memorial to the African
Commission of 9 September 2004, that it was her counsel and not her who was
reportedly present and aware of the date on which her case was slated before
the High Court which dismissed it altogether for non-appearance. She further
alleged that there was no evidence presented showing that her counsel (on
whose expertise she, as a lay person, relied on) communicated the
information about the date for the hearing of her appeal. By dismissing her
appeal, the High Court improperly punished her while the proper person to be
punished for Ďnegligence or recklessnessí, if any, was her counsel.
31. In requesting that the African Commission dismiss the complaint in its
entirety, the respondent state submitted, on 21 August 2003, its response to
the same. In its response, the respondent state disputed the allegation that
it violated article 7 of the African Charter in that the complainant was
indeed granted an opportunity to be heard but chose not to exercise it by
failing to appear on the hearing date. The respondent state annexed a copy
of the proceedings of the High Court in question and further argued that
although the judiciary is an institution of the respondent state, the latter
could not be at fault for the Courtís dismissing the appeal as the
complainantís advocate was present on the first date for the hearing and was
aware of the date when the hearing was adjourned to, and that despite this
knowledge, both the complainant and her counsel failed to appear on the
32. The respondent state further argued that there was no violation of
article 14 of the African Charter as the decision to dismiss by the High
Court in question was in accordance with Order IX, rule 8 of the countryís
Civil Procedure Code of 1966. The complainant failed to adduce evidence to
prove her right to property, which right was recognised by the government.
It argued that the matter had been completely dealt with by the respondent
stateís courts of law and hence the complaint before the Commission was an
abuse of process of law. The respondent state concluded that the appeal was
dismissed by the High Court because of the gross misconduct of the
complainantís advocate and hence she should proceed against her counsel for
33. By a rejoinder of 23 October 2003, the complainant maintained that there
was no evidence whatsoever to show that she was duly served or notified of
the date set for the hearing by the High Court that dismissed the appeal,
and hence the dismissal was contrary to the cardinal principle of natural
justice, the right to be heard. She insisted that she did not have knowledge
of the hearing date as the records show that she was absent when the matter
34. She further averred that her main prayers as laid before the
Magistrateís Court, dissolution of marriage and division of matrimonial
property, remained undecided to date as the High Courtís dismissal order
erroneously based itself on the Law of Limitations Act of 1971. She claimed
that even if she were absent on the date the matter was called for hearing,
which fact she denied, the High Court was wrong to dismiss her appeal as it
was not mandatory under the law (Order XXXIX rule 11(1) of the Civil
Procedure Code of 1966) that non appearance of the appellant shall result in
dismissal of the appeal.
35. The complainant followed this by a further submission, dated 13 January
2004, addressing the contents of the copy of the proceedings before the High
Court that dismissed her appeal for non-appearance. In that, she alleged
that the matter concerned matrimonial issue, which required determination
for purposes of giving rights to each party, exacting special care due to
its nature relating to divorce, custody of children, and division of
property. The counsel for the appellant that appeared before the High Court
was a human being and anything might have happened to her and as such her
non-appearance on the hearing date ought to have been given excuse. Besides,
the complainant further alleged, the non-appearance was a first default and
the trial Judge should have adjourned the matter and order for the parties
to be notified to appear on another date. She maintained that the dismissals
failed to consider the interest of both parties as far as married life was
concerned, which, together with the rights of each party, had to be
36. A look at both partiesí submissions and documentary evidence adduced
before the African Commission showed that an important fact, that neither
the complainant nor her counsel appeared before the High Court on the date
her appeal was slated to be heard, was correct. As summarised above,
however, the complainant held that the dismissal that ensued was not
justified as she had not been notified of the date for the hearing, and
that, among others, the dismissal was contrary to natural justice denying
her right to equitable share of the matrimonial property. She maintained
that it was her counselís fault that resulted in her present situation and
that should anyone be punished, it should have been her counsel not her. She
further advocated that the decision by the High Court did not determine her
marital status or the partition of matrimonial property, including child
custodial issues. It merely disposed of the matter on the superficial reason
that procedure had not been complied with.
37. The respondent state, on the other hand, insisted that it shall not be
held responsible for the complainantís failure to follow procedure in
enforcing her rights. It even suggested that the complainant rather proceed
against her own counsel for failure to appear which resulted in the
dismissal of the case by the High Court.
38. The African Commission notes that civil procedure concerns itself with
enabling parties enforce their substantive rights before the courts as
guaranteed by substantive laws. It is not disputed that the present
complainant failed to do so by failing to appear on the date for hearing of
the matter. What is disputed is the fairness of the dismissal of the matter
in its entirety, which the respondent state claimed was proper.
39. The respondent state claimed that the High Courtís decision based itself
on Order IX rule 8 of the countryís Civil Procedure Code of 1966, which
Where the defendant appears and the plaintiff does not appear when the suit
is called on for hearing, the court shall make an order that the suit be
dismissed unless the defendant admits the claim, or part thereof, in which
case the court shall pass a decree against the defendant upon such admission
and, where part only of the claim has been admitted, shall dismiss the suit
so far as it relates to the remainder.
40. The subsequent rule 9(1) under the same Order IX, however, introduced an
important exception to rule 8 above in providing the plaintiff an
opportunity to have the dismissal set aside. It states that the plaintiff
may apply for an order to set the dismissal aside, and if he satisfies the
court that there was sufficient cause for his non-appearance when the suit
was called on for hearing, the court shall make an order setting aside the
dismissal and shall appoint a day for proceeding with the suit.
41. The African Commission does not wish to pre-empt the understanding and
interpretation of these rules by Tanzanian courts. Yet, the combined reading
of these two rules clearly shows that the dismissal of the suit by the High
Court is not unassailable and that as long as the plaintiff can show
sufficient cause for her non-appearance, the Court should allow the
complainant to proceed with the suit. The High Court may exercise
discretion, on a case by case basis, in deciding whether the cause shown
before it to have the dismissal set aside is sufficient or not.
42. The courts are provided with further discretionary power under Order
XXXIX rule 11(2) of the same Procedure Code when they decide upon the
appeals before them. This rule reads:
If on the day fixed or any other day to which the hearing may be adjourned
the appellant does not appear when the appeal is called on for hearing, the
court may make an order that the appeal be dismissed.
43. The emphasis here is on Ďmay make an order that the appeal be
dismissedí. This is a clear discretion left to the Court to decide as it
deems fit. Again, the African Commission does not wish to delve into the
interpretation of this or any other laws of Tanzania. Yet, the effect of
their application, should it run contrary to the natural justice principle
underlying article 7(1) (a) of the African Charter, can be a proper subject
before the African Commission.
44. The facts as presented by the parties and not contested indicate that
there were no proceedings held justifying the closure of the complainantís
case without further hearings. In such circumstances, the African Commission
can not but agree with the complainantís claim that the option the Court
followed in dismissing her appeal without giving her an opportunity to be
heard and without considering the consequences that may have on her claims
to property and child custody (which could have been taken care of by a
favourable exercise of discretion by the courts) does not conform with the
requirements of the African Charter and the principle of natural justice.
The Courtís decision to simply dismiss the complainantís petition ushered in
uncertainty as to the status of the marriage itself, the partition of
matrimonial property, and custodial issues.
45. The African Commission holds that substantive rights enshrined in the
African Charter rely on procedural rules for their effective enjoyment. The
application of these procedural rules giving effect to the enjoyment these
rights should be checked since, like in the present case, their application
may negate the very substantive rights, resulting in their curtailment or
deprivation. Member states have committed themselves to give effect to
rights contained in the African Charter. The African Commission holds that
the application of these procedures domestically put in place with a view to
implement the African Charter should not result in frustrating the very
obligations the member states undertook in committing themselves under the
46. The African Commission further notes that although the provisions of the
Tanzanian Civil Procedure Code form part of the procedural laws giving
effect to the substantive laws elsewhere in their laws, their application in
cases such as the present could result in the curtailment of citizens to
enjoy their basic rights. It is not being disputed that the substantive laws
of Tanzania guarantee the right to property, family life and child custodian
rights. Yet, the establishment of such rights must be followed by the
diligence on the part of the state to ensure that everyone enjoys them,
which means the just application of procedures meant to give effect to the
rights. It is noted that it is not the place of the African Commission, nor
does it fall under its mandate, to prescribe legislation for member states
with a view to give effect to the rights and duties enshrined in the African
Charter domestically. However, it is the duty of the African Commission to
check the application of domestic procedures enacted by member states
implementing the African Charter. Accordingly, Tanzanian authorities may
enact the procedures governing the exercise of rights and duties; while the
African Commission retains its supervisory role over the application of
those procedures enabling the implementation of the African Charter, making
sure that the application of procedures does not indeed deny the enjoyment
of the rights themselves.
47. It is noted that the complainant was given only one chance to appeal.
She was faced with making a procedural choice to enforce her rights.
Eventually, her case was dismissed on mere grounds of procedural rules, the
application of which was at times discretionary (as shown in paragraphs
38-42 above). Even the review procedure allowing the same High Court Judge
to preside over appeals and their review, the application of which led to
the dismissal of the complainantís claim, does not tone with the general
requirements of fair trial.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE AFRICAN COMMISSION
Finds the Republic of Tanzania in violation of article 7(1)(a);
Further, the African Commission urges the government of the Republic of
Tanzania to ensure that its courts apply its rules of procedure without fear
Urges the government of the Republic of Tanzania to allow the complainant to
be heard on her appeal.