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Joseph John vs United Republic of Tanzania

On February 18th, Mr. Joseph John (the Applicant), filed an application instituting proceedings against the United Republic of Tanzania (the defendant State) before the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (the ACHPR or the Court), for alleged violations of the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Charter) in its article 7.

The applicant, who was allegedly 16 years old at the time of the events, was charged with raping a 17-year-old girl and was tried and sentenced by the Kahama District Court on August 24th, 2010. This decision was subsequently upheld by the Tabora High Court on August 14th, 2012 and the Tanzanian Court of Appeal on September 24th, 2013. At the time of filing the present application, he was serving a 30-year sentence in Uyui Central Prison.

On November 21st, 2019, the Republic of Tanzania deposited the instruments of withdrawal of the Court’s declaration of jurisdiction to receive applications from individuals and non-governmental organizations. In issuing its decision on September 22nd, 2022, the Court has been faithful to its consistent jurisprudence of dealing with all cases enrolled in the Registry before the date of entry into force of the withdrawal of the declaration. 

As a preliminary point, Tanzania raised objections relating to the lack of jurisdiction of the Court and inadmissibility of the application. After examining the matters, the Court concluded that the case was admissible and declared itself competent to hear it. It then turned to the merits of the case.

  • Turning first to the allegation of a violation of his right to post bail (Article 7.( (1) of the Charter), the applicant submits that by failing to inform him of the possibility of his right to apply for parole, Tanzania violated his right to a fair trial. Tanzania, for its part, counters that this point was mentioned only after the issue of reparations has been raised. The Court concluded that it could answer this question and that the right to post bail is a fundamental principle of the right to liberty and that the failure of the defendant State to inform the applicant of this right is a violation of Article 6 of the Charter.
  • Turning next to the allegation of a violation of his right to legal aid (Article 7.( 1). (c) of the Charter), the applicant alleges that, being indigent, it was imperative to receive legal aid in so far as he was being tried for a crime considered serious. Tanzania replied that the complainant had never made such a request. The Court, reiterating its settled case-law, concluded that, in the circumstances of the present case, the State had a duty, of its own motion and free of charge, to offer the applicant legal aid. By failing to do so, Tanzania did violate Article 7(1) of the Charter.
  • Turning then to the allegation of a violation of his right to be tried within a reasonable time (Article 7(1)(d) of the Charter), the applicant notes that he remained in police custody for more than 24 hours and was indicted 3 months after being arrested. Tanzania, for its part, asserts that the case was tried at first instance over a period of one year, a period of time which was reasonable, having regard to the nature of the the offence and the circumstances of the case. The Court sided with Tanzania.
  • Turning finally to the allegation of a violation of his right to be tried by a juvenile court, the applicant claims that he was under 16 years of age at the time of the offence. Tanzania asserts that the transcript of the hearing before the Court of Appeal noted that he was 20 years old at the time of his indictment. On the basis of the documents provided, the Court concluded that the applicant was indeed of age at the time of the trial.

The Court rejected the applicant’s request for release and awarded the applicant 600,000 Tanzanian shillings for non-pecuniary damage. This sum must be paid to the applicant tax-free within 6 months of notification of this decision, failing which default interest will have to be paid.

Judgment of 22-09-2022.pdf

This summary is provided for informational purposes only, does not involve the responsibility of Dome and should in no way be used as a substitute for a careful reading of the judgment and order of the case.