Chief Court Reporter
Independence of the Judiciary is vital to the survival of the country’s democracy and will be fully respected by the Government, President Mnangagwa said last night.
In a message posted on his Twitter handle, the President said all Zimbabweans should listen when the courts speak.
“In Zimbabwe, the independence of our Judiciary is vital to the survival of our democracy. When our courts speak, all Zimbabweans should listen.
“The Government of Zimbabwe wholeheartedly respects the independence of our Judiciary,” wrote President Mnangagwa.
In an earlier statement, the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs said Government would consider itself bound by judicial decisions even where it disagreed with them, but would follow the normal appeal process open to everyone, where it believed there were grounds for appeal to a higher court.
The Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Mrs Virginia Mabiza said Government valued the principles of the separation of powers as set out in the Constitution of Zimbabwe and would not interfere with the Judiciary.
In the latest case where the Government has disagreed with a judicial decision, the High Court order invalidating the extension of Chief Justice Luke Malaba’s service beyond the age of 70, it first immediately recognised that since Chief Justice Malaba turned 70 on Saturday the Deputy Chief Justice was now acting Chief Justice, that being the immediate consequence of the order under the Constitution. But the Government has also filed appeals to the Supreme Court, the next level up.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi and the Attorney-General, Advocate Prince Machaya, noted separate appeals challenging the High Court’s decision to annul the extension of Chief Justice Malaba’s service beyond the age of 70 on the grounds that the recent Constitutional Amendment allowing judges, including the Chief Justice, the option of serving up to 75 could not include sitting judges of the Constitutional and Supreme Court but did include sitting judges of the High Court.
Mrs Mabiza said Government would now await the Supreme Court’s final judicial decision in the case.
“The Government of Zimbabwe therefore recognises the importance of the Judiciary as a dependable interpreter of the law where various opinions may arise,” said Mrs Mabiza in the statement.
“The Government of Zimbabwe, having given its full consideration to the judgment of the High Court, holds, with respect, a different view and is unable, for many reasons, to agree with the judgment of the Honourable Court in that matter. It has, therefore, taken measures to have the judgment set aside in accordance with the law. The Government of Zimbabwe will implement all the necessary processes triggered by the noting of an appeal against the judgement.”
To this end, said Mrs Mabiza, the Government wanted to assure the public that it has referred the resolution of the matter to the courts and awaits their final decision.
“Further, the authority of the judiciary and all its respective offices and structures remains in place with the courts fully functional in discharging their constitutional mandate,” she said.
A three-judge panel headed by Justice Happias Zhou, including Justice Edith Mushore and Justice Jester Charewa on Saturday blocked the decision by Justice Malaba to exercise his new option to continue serving until he is 75, backed by his medical certificate saying he is mentally and physically fit to do so.
This option was set out in Constitutional Amendment Act Number 2 gazetted on Monday last week after going through the required approval process.
In terms of that Act the retirement age for all judges is now 70 but every judge has the option to serve to the age of 75 so long as they are mentally and physically fit to do so and exercise that option before their 70th birthday.
This, the Chief Justice did and with his medical certificate had his term extended.
But the three High Court judges ruled that the Chief Justice ceased to be the Chief Justice upon reaching 70 years on Saturday and that the option of an extension of service did not apply to incumbent judges of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court.
However, Minister Ziyambi and Adv Machaya want the judgment of the High Court set aside and they have since filed their notices of appeal setting out their grounds of appeal pinpointing the irregularities by the High Court judges in their ruling.
The Judicial Service Commission has since announced that Deputy Chief Justice Elizabeth Gwaunza is now the acting Chief Justice, the procedure set out in the Constitution where the post of Chief Justice is vacant or where a Chief Justice cannot serve, pending the outcome of the appeal.