Democratic accountability is at heart of judicial legitimacy 

Democratic accountability is at heart of judicial legitimacy 

Source: Democratic accountability is at heart of judicial legitimacy – The Zimbabwe Independent August 24, 2018

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Someone should tell Zimbabwean judges to stop wearing ancient wigs which make them look like caricatures of 17th century England.

Candid Comment Brezhnev Malaba
bmalaba@zimind.co.zw

From the mid-17th century to the mid-18th century, men who considered themselves fashionable wore wigs to accentuate what they imagined to be a lofty social standing. In much of the world, these relics of a bygone era have since been discarded — except in Africa where judges and advocates still stubbornly cling on to the wigs as if their very careers depend on the ridiculous sartorial accessory.

But it appears wigs, which were the height of male fashion in uncivilised England, are not the only hopelessly archaic aspects of our judicial system. As a journalist, I have witnessed how the courts of law have remained out of tune with the realities of 21st century society.

A typical courtroom can only accommodate a tiny number of people.

There is a section, called the public gallery, reserved for members of the public, but the space is limited. This is where journalists come in: we sit in court, record the proceedings as accurately as the law requires, and deliver this information to the public.

The role of journalists in the judicial system is vital; in fact, if journalists did not exist, a courtroom would have to be the size of the Harare International Conference Centre — to allow thousands of people who might be interested in the case to sit through the proceedings.

Sadly, it would seem the important role of journalists is not appreciated by some in the justice delivery system. For starters, where do the police get the authority to bar journalists from entering the Constitutional Court with laptops, cellphones and digital recorders? Without these tools of the craft, journalists are rendered useless and their constitutionally guaranteed rights are subverted.

With respect — and I say this with utmost sincerity — I would argue that a journalist’s modest laptop is worth more than all the judges’ wigs put together.

After dismissing an urgent application by the Media Institute of Southern Africa and Bulawayo-based journalist Busani Bafana seeking permission to livestream the courtroom proceedings, the court went on to prevent journalists from entering with their cellphones, laptops and other digital equipment.

This is unreasonable in a democratic society and goes against sections 61 and 62 of the 2013 constitution which guarantee free expression, media freedom and access to information.

Zimbabwe’s judiciary must modernise so that it dispenses justice in more effective and efficient ways. One of the ways of doing this is to ensure that judicial officers stop viewing journalists as their enemies, but as important partners in nation building.

It was Justice Hewart who famously said: “Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.”

Why must justice be seen to be done? Well, because by insisting on open court proceedings, society can guard against biased and arbitrary decisions. Democratic accountability is at the heart of judicial legitimacy.

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