Building judicial independence in semi-democracies: Uganda and Zimbabwe

Jennifer Widner, Daniel Scher

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

20 Scopus citations


This chapter draws upon African cases to consider the circumstances under which a court can build and maintain a high degree of independence in an authoritarian setting. Trials that uncover corruption in high places, affect electoral fortunes, or cause a political supporter to pay large sums of money often test the willingness to delegate power to a court. In any context, including democracies, executive branches and legislatures may occasionally attempt to infringe judicial independence when there are strong incentives to do so. The issue is, first, whether they succeed in influencing the outcomes of these particular cases, and, second, whether their efforts undermine the ideal of neutral third-party dispute resolution for future controversies. We may be able to learn something about the development of institutional autonomy by comparing country experiences. In highly charged disputes, why do executive branch efforts to influence outcomes end with the judiciary substantially intact in some instances, whereas in others the autonomy of the court from the other branches of government diminishes?In the context of this discussion, judicial independence means freedom from partisan influence in particular cases. There are many ways in which a determined executive faction may secure the outcomes it wishes short of threatening or firing judges, packing the court, or ousting jurisdiction-the three most spectacular ways to abrogate the independence of the judiciary.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRule by Law
Subtitle of host publicationThe Politics of Courts in Authoritarian Regimes
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9780511814822
ISBN (Print)9780521895903
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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