Fidelis Munyoro Chief Court Reporter
The Attorney-General’s Office has come under fire for incompetence, with High Court Judge Justice Priscillah Munangati-Manongwa chiding law officers for failing to protect Government interests in litigation against the State.
Apart from being the chief Government’s legal advisers, the AG’s officers are tasked to represent the State and all its arms in court.
Justice Munangati-Manongwa made it clear that they should act for the Government with the same degree of competence as private practitioners do for their clients.
She made the remarks in last week’s civil case ruling involving former Police Assistant Commissioner Fortunate Chirara and former police inspector John Madhuku on one side against the Commissioner-General of Police Godwin Matanga and the Public Service Commission on the other side.
The pair are suing over alleged forced resignation.
“It remains that some officers from the Attorney-General’s Office who are tasked with representing the State and in other instances arms of the State are often found wanting in so far as adequately protecting the interest of the State is concerned,” said Justice Munangati-Manongwa.
In most cases, the law officers from the AG’s Office failed to comply with elementary court rules, she said.
Justice Munangati-Manongwa said the realisation of justice was centred on compliance which places all parties at par and enables proper dispute resolution.
“That being so, the lackadaisical approach which some officers assume in handling matters involving the State and its entities must simply stop,” she said.
“This matter is one in many which shows incompetence by some officers. It must never be that the State’s interest as litigants gets compromised because counsel representing it has not adopted a serious approach in safeguarding the legal interest of the State.”
Justice Munangati-Manongwa said all legal practitioners were officers of the court with a duty to the client and the court at large for proper administration of justice.
In this case, Comm-Gen Matanga and the PSC were applying for condonation of late filing of their opposition papers in the case in which Chirara and Madhuku were seeking an order declaring their “forced resignation” unlawful.
It is this application which the AG’s officers failed to oppose timeously.
During the hearing of the application for condonation, the law officer from the civil division of the AG’s Office Mr D. Jaricha explained that opposition papers of Comm-Gen Matanga were misplaced in the office and hence not filed.
After the pair filed its application, Comm-Gen Matanga and PSC were served on July 1 last year.
The notice of opposition for the police chief was not filed within the stipulated 10 days from the date of service of the application.
This effectively barred Comm-Gen Matanga from being heard in court.
His opposition was then filed on September 23, way out of time.
When the matter was brought for hearing early this month, Comm-Gen Matanga’s application for condonation was opposed.
After hearing arguments from both parties’ lawyers, Justice Munangati-Manongwa considered the circumstances of the matter and exercised her discretion and granted the application by Comm-Gen Matanga for condonation.
To express the court’s displeasure in the manner the case was handled by the Civil Division, she slapped the office with an order for costs.
“It will not only defy logic, but would be patently unjust if the first respondent (Comm-Gen Matanga) would be made to pay costs because he acted on time upon receiving the application,” said Justice Munangati-Manongwa.
Chirara and Madhuku resigned after being accused of stealing $4 000 from the police’s Kuyedza Women’s Club.
They were jailed two years each for theft, but were acquitted on appeal at the High Court.