Court blockades condemned

Source: Court blockades condemned | The Financial Gazette September 1, 2016

CONSTITUTIONAL experts this week condemned State security agents for preventing members of the public from attending remand proceedings of arrested protesters.
This comes in the wake of increasing public protests against police brutality, corruption and the mismanagement of the country’s economy.
Overwhelmed by the sporadic demonstrations, uneasy State security agents have resorted to blockading the public from attending the many cases of people appearing in court facing charges of inciting public violence during the protests.
But parliamentary and constitutional watchdog, Veritas Zimbabwe, this week said transparency was a cornerstone of the administration of justice.
Veritas said legal proceedings, both criminal and civil, must be held in public so that justice is not only done but is seen to be done.
“If court proceedings are veiled in secrecy and not exposed to what has been called the ‘searchlight of publicity’, then injustice and corruption can flourish unobserved,” said Veritas.
“Remove the cornerstone of publicity/transparency and the whole judicial edifice will collapse.”
Section 69 of the Constitution, enshrining the right to fair and public trial before an independent court, says: “Everyone accused of a criminal offence has the right to a fair and public trial … before an independent and impartial court.”
During the trial of #Tajamuka/Sesijikile campaign leader Promise Mkwananzi and Kudakwashe Pate, members of the public were dispersed from the Harare Magistrates courts by anti-riot police.
The duo was remanded in custody to September 12, with State prosecutor, Micheal Reza arguing that the two were a flight risk and could intimidate the police.
Constitutional law expert, Lovemore Madhuku, said the courts were violating the Constitution by barring the public from attending court cases.
“They are not supposed to do that. It is a serious abuse of the Constitution. The police have no business with a person who has not committed any crime. They also have no business determining who gets into court; it’s a violation of the law,” argued Madhuku.
According to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, everyone shall be entitled to fair public hearing.
“In the determination of any criminal charge against a person, or of a person’s rights and obligations, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a legally constituted competent, independent and impartial judicial body,” says the commission.
Lawyer, Jacob Mafume, said a colonial mentality was still engraved in the country’s judicial system.
“The courts still have a hangover of a repressive Zimbabwe and a colonial mentality where the courts were simply an instrument of the rulers to maintain power,” Mafume said, adding that there was need for public scrutiny and the setting up of live broadcast trials, a concept mainly practiced by the South African judicial system.
“The technology to bring courts to the people is abundant and cheap in South Africa, courts broadcast their cases on television so that the nation can watch and review. We need a mindset shift and people should demand that the courts be transparent,” argued Mafume.