via Zims lose faith in courts | The Zimbabwean 22.01.14
Zimbabweans are increasingly losing faith in the judicial system, which they say is now badly tainted by partisanship, corruption and incompetence.
Experts and members of the public this week rapped the judiciary for failing to discharge its duties in line with the Constitution, saying the system was tainted right from the Supreme Court to the lowest courts.
The partisan appointment of judges and other judicial officers is the root cause of the “rot in our courts”, says Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Programmes Manager Nickson Nyikadzino. “Patronage in the appointment of judges and recruitment of magistrates as well as other judicial officers is the biggest problem. There is no meritocracy. The President looks at how politically correct are those appointed as judges. It seems there is now a culture to appoint only those who are useful in preserving those in power,” he said.
Critics have also rapped the appointment of Justice George Chiweshe, a Retired Brigadier General, who was also appointed to the Constitutional Court last May, to the position of Judge President.
He was in charge of the electoral commission during the condemned 2008 elections, when it withheld results of the presidential election for more than 30 days in what opposition politicians said was a strategy to manipulate the poll outcome.
As far back as 2012 Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku warned that corruption had seriously compromised the judiciary. Speaking at the launch of a new code of ethics he said: “The judiciary is terribly under-funded. This has seriously impaired the capacity of the judiciary to deliver justice.”
Then Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said corruption had become a “cancerous cell eating away the fabric of our justice delivery system”.
Nyikadzino said the patronage in the judiciary cascaded to the lower courts, where a good number of magistrates are vetted for their political correctness before they are appointed. Many get influential positions because they are known or related to influential judicial staffers.
“The nature of the perks enjoyed by judges raises eyebrows. How can a judge be impartial after being feted with large farms, upmarket houses, expensive cars and direct briefings from the Executive? Some of them are clearly promoted as a thank you for helping some people hold onto power,” he said.
He said appointments to the position of Attorney General had always been based on political bias. Former AG, Johannes Tomana, who was elevated to be the Prosecutor General late last year, has publicly acknowledged that he is a Zanu (PF) activist. A senior lawyers with Zimbabwe Lawyer for Human Rights said: “There are clearly more competent lawyers who could be judges but will not be appointed because they are not well connected. That taints the judiciary.”
Section 180 of the new constitution prescribes a more inclusive approach in the appointment of judges, unlike in the past. It demands that the positions of Chief Justice, his/her deputy, Judge President and other judges must be advertised, after which the President and the public must make nominations and public interviews be conducted to select three suitable candidates.
However, this was not done even when new judges were appointed after the adoption of the new constitution.
Recently, former Speaker of Parliament and the MDC-T National Chairperson, who contested the Matobo North constituency last year and lost to Zanu (PF), withdrew a petition at the Bulawayo High Court, saying he was not guaranteed a fair trial.
“Zanu (PF) stole the elections and the MDC objects the outcome of that election. That is why we took the case to the courts but we have realised that the outcome is predetermined, and therefore a waste of time,” said Lovemore Moyo.
Numerous MDC-T court petitions in which candidates argued that the July 31 polls were rigged crumbled after the courts imposed hefty fees that the party could not raise. There has also been an outcry over several cases in which MDC-T members were perceived to have received politically motivated judgments.
Critics say individuals aligned to Zanu (PF) are treated with kid gloves, with some accused of murder still free years after allegedly committing the offences.
In 2009, the then Judge President, Rita Makarau, admitted that corruption was rampant in the judiciary. “Reports have reached my office and the office of the Chief Justice that support staff are engaging in corrupt practices,” she said.
Another ZLHR lawyer said magistrates and prosecutors were asking for bribes. “It’s unbelievable. PPs (public prosecutors) and magistrates are not even ashamed to ask for bribes from us lawyers,” he said.
Ordinary people no longer have faith in the judiciary. “Cases are determined on the basis over whether you can bribe officials or not. Those that go to jail are poor people, while the rich go scot free or are given bail under unclear circumstances,” said Cecilia Ziwakaya, a receptionist with a tertiary college in Harare.
A former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe employee who was retrenched in 2009 said: “Even senior officials and judges receive bribes. Otherwise how can you explain that former RBZ employees like myself have had documents disappearing on more than two occasions?”