Zvamaida Murwira Senior Reporter—
There is need to involve elected persons such as the President when making key judicial appointments like that of Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and Judge President, legislators have said. The parliamentary portfolio committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs chaired by Zvimba West MP Cde Ziyambi Ziyambi (Zanu-PF), said leaving selection of such key posts to an outgoing Chief Justice was undesirable as he or she might be conflicted.
Cde Ziyambi said this while presenting the committee report on the Constitutional Amendment (Number One) Bill on its second reading stage in the National Assembly.
Acting President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who also oversees the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, was steering the Bill.
Cde Ziyambi said the committee had noted that judicial independence was a function of many elements and not entirely on appointment procedures.
“Current practice is not settled on any gold standard for the appointment of judges and the legal practice in many countries, including those that developed the jurisprudence of judicial independence advocate some involvement of the elected representatives of the people in the judicial appointment process,” said Cde Ziyambi.
“The Committee further took note of the view that an outgoing Chief Justice cannot chair interviews for his or her successor for the simple reason that he or she is conflicted. Having worked with almost all the prospective candidates, this diminishes the transparency of the whole process in that certain prejudices and biases against some candidates will largely influence the final decision.”
It was noted that the involvement of the Chief Justice vitiated the principle of transparency, which the same bench sought to enhance.
“In the same vein, having the Judicial Service Commission conduct interviews for the chief justice, entails having juniors interviewing their future boss,” said Cde Ziyambi.
“While on the face of it, it may appear as a noble process, it can create potential conflicts and breed a system of patronage which will contaminate the bench.”
Cde Ziyambi said simple governance dictated that an independent person or tribunal adjudicate on the selection process as the bench might be exposed to the risk of being indirectly influenced by the outgoing Chief Justice.
MDC-T chief whip and Mutare Central MP Mr Innocent Gonese rapped the proposed constitutional amendments.
He said it was not true that the constitutional provision where judges were interviewed came from the MDC-T as what had been reported.
He said the clause came from the public and was never one of contested issues, as there was consensus that judges be appointed in a transparent manner.
“Besides, there is nothing wrong with juniors to appoint someone who is going to be a leader, just as company directors can elect their chairperson or citizens elect their President,” said Mr Gonese.
Buhera West MP Cde Oliver Mandipaka (Zanu-PF) said laws were not cast in stone, but were subject to change if it was felt desirable.
Buhera Central MP Cde Ronald Muderedzwa (Zanu-PF) echoed the sentiments by Cde Mandipaka in support of the Bill, while other MDC-T lawmakers sought to oppose it.
Acting President Mnangagwa is yet to respond.