LAST month, Judge president Justice Maria Zimba-Dube took the oath of office, becoming only the second woman to occupy the top High Court office after Justice Rita Makarau. She took over the reins at a time when the Judiciary was undergoing consequential transformation in line with the Government’s drive to fashion a representative and truly independent Judiciary.
Our reporter Debra Matabvu recently engaged Justice Zimba-Dube on her plans for her new role.
Q: You have just been appointed Judge president, what was your initial reaction to the appointment?
A: Firstly, allow me to thank His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe Dr E.D. Mnangagwa for the confidence he has vested in me to head the High Court of Zimbabwe.
The honour bestowed on me through my appointment as the Judge president is profoundly encouraging and motivating.
I consider it an honour to serve my country, profession and calling in this new and exciting judicial capacity.
I also want to express my humble gratitude to the Chief Justice, Honourable Luke Malaba for the guidance and mentorship he has given me over the years.
The Deputy Chief Justice, Honourable Elizabeth Gwaunza, and Judges of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the High Court, from whom I have learnt many and crucial lessons, have given me demonstrable support in my judicial philosophy.
I hope that they will continue to give me wise counsel and courteous collegiality.
I value and appreciate the co-operation I have received over the years from lawyers and advocates of the Bar.
Their vociferous and multi-faceted views enrich our constitutional democracy.
Q: Can you outline your vision for the High Court as you commence your new duties?
A: My vision is informed by the Judicial Service Commission’s vision — a Zimbabwe in which world-class justice prevails.
When people approach the courts, they are seeking justice.
They therefore expect that their cases will be heard promptly, that justice will be served irrespective of their status and that the courts will safeguard their human rights and freedoms while ensuring that there is rule of law.
My vision therefore is for a High Court which delivers justice expeditiously and consistently, a High Court which is transparent, fair and committed to upholding the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the law.
Q: Can you take us through your journey that has led you here today?
A: I read Law at the University of Zimbabwe and graduated with a Bachelor of Law Honours Degree (BL) in 1989, then a Bachelor of Laws Degree (LLB) in 1990.
Thereafter, I joined the Attorney General’s Office as a law officer in the Criminal Division and rose through the ranks to become a principal law officer.
During those years, I prosecuted in the Magistrates’ Court, the High Court and the Supreme Court.
I was then appointed chief law officer where I worked firstly, as the senior public prosecutor in charge of the Western Division comprising the Matabeleland North and South Provinces from February 2000 to August 2004, then secondly, in the Legal Aid Directorate from September 2004 to November 2004.
I joined the bench as a Judge (then president) of the Administrative Court in November 2004.
In September 2010, I was appointed senior judge (then Senior president) of the Administrative Court, where I was the Judge in charge of that court responsible for supervision of other Judges in addition to presiding over administrative law cases.
In September 2011, I became a High Court Judge.
I headed the Civil Division of the High Court on July 3, 2019 and was the president of the Intellectual Property Tribunal from February 27, 2020.
These are the posts I have held until my appointment as the Acting Judge president of the High Court on July 3, 2021, leading to my appointment as the substantive Judge president on July 26, 2021.
Q: In Zimbabwe we have generally very few women occupying high positions within the Judiciary. What do you ascribe this to?
A: While this could have been true in the years gone by, the Judicial Service Commission has made significant strides in ensuring that the values espoused in Section 17 of the Constitution which enjoin the State to promote the full participation of women in all spheres of Zimbabwean society on the basis of equality with men are met.
You will note there is commanding female representation in all the top offices of the judiciary.
For instance, the Deputy Chief Justice; the Senior Judge of the Supreme Court; the Judge president of the High Court; the Senior Judge of the Labour Court; and the Deputy Chief Magistrate are female.
We also have a female deputy secretary to the Commission while the chief registrar, the registrar of the Supreme Court, the registrar of the Labour Court and the registrar of the Administrative Court are all female.
For the first time in the Judicial Service Commission, we also have more women in the board of commissioners.
Five of the 13 board members are female.
Q: What more can be done to ensure more women reach the higher echelons of the Judiciary?
A: Female participation and inclusion in higher positions has been guided by the Constitutional imperative which requires that appointments to the Judiciary must reflect broadly the diversity and gender composition in Zimbabwe.
The current position reflects that the Judicial Service Commission has made efforts to ensure that this Constitutional requirement is adhered to.
Q: Access to justice is one of the fundamental bedrocks of our constitutional democracy. What will you do to ensure that every Zimbabwean has access to justice in the High Court?
A: The current problem besetting the people of Zimbabwe is the location of the High Court stations.
I wish to acknowledge the work done by the Judicial Service Commission and my predecessor to decentralise the High Court from two stations for over a century to four in the past five years.
However, considering that there are 10 Provinces in the country, it is necessary to decentralise the High Court stations even further.
Currently, plans are afoot to establish a fifth High Court station in Chinhoyi.
I will ensure that the decentralisation drive continues and with speed so that the people of Zimbabwe do not travel long distances to physically access the High Court.
Secondly, I will work together with my colleague Judges to ensure expeditious disposal of matters.
I will ensure that Judges are provided with the necessary case management tools to capacitate them to speedily resolve matters.
Cases should not be pending for longer than is necessary.
Further, I will ensure that there is constant collaboration and collegiality with the distinct departments in the High Court and the stakeholders in the administration of justice to ensure that barriers to access to justice are eliminated.
This also requires identifying any glitches that emanate from the office of the registrar or office of the Judge and finding resolution to those challenges.
Q: In the past, we have had instances where cases go for years at the High Court before they are resolved. What will you do to ensure that justice is delivered expeditiously?
A: It is often said that justice delayed is justice denied.
The Constitution demands that justice must not be delayed.
Once justice is delayed, it has ripple effects on the people’s right to access justice.
In any case, judicial authority in Zimbabwe derives from the people.
The public is therefore entitled to courts that administer justice effectively, efficiently and expeditiously.
The Judiciary, as an institution, has a burden to ensure that the public gets a judicial system that it deserves.
Against this backdrop, I will ensure strict compliance with the legislative policies that govern the timeous delivery of judgments.
I will also encourage my fellow Judges to remain conscientious of their constitutionally-charged responsibility to perform their judicial duties efficiently and with reasonable promptness.
Q: There have also been reports of corruption within the judiciary. What will you do to weed out corruption in the High Court and also in the entire judiciary now that you are a commissioner with the JSC?
A: Corruption is a vice that not only the Judiciary, but the whole country, is grappling with. The President has declared zero tolerance to corruption.
The Chief Justice and the entire Judicial Service Commission have shown that there will be no sacred cows in the fight against corruption and I intend to follow in the same footsteps. There is a vibrant complaints mechanism procedure in the High Court, which I intend to carry forward from where my predecessor left.
All complaints will be thoroughly and promptly investigated to their logical conclusion. You cannot go it alone in the fight against corruption.
The Judicial Service Commission has collaborated with other stakeholders to nip this vice in the bud and this is a trajectory I will diligently pursue.
I will also ensure that the Anti-Corruption Division of the High Court remains vigorous in dealing with corruption related matters decisively.