Justice Chigumba D-Day beckons

Source: Justice Chigumba D-Day beckons | The Herald October 4, 2016

Fidelis Munyoro Chief Court Reporter—
The fate of High Court judge Justice Priscilla Chigumba who is accused of soliciting for a $20 000 bribe from a litigant is likely to be sealed in two weeks’ time when the Judicial Service Commission meets to consider the matter.

This comes as unconfirmed reports indicate that panic has gripped High Court judges as the likely bribery probe against the judge, would open a can of worms. Justice Chigumba was among the eight High Court judges that were interviewed by the JSC to be considered for elevation to the Supreme Court bench.

JSC secretary Justice Rita Makarau yesterday said, the JSC will meet on October 13 where the matter would be considered. “The JSC is now seized with the matter,” said Justice Makarau. “It is at that meeting where the commission will come up with a decision on the way forward.”

A cross-section of lawyers who spoke on the corruption accusation against Justice Chigumba said the allegations were likely to open a Pandora’s box, and, several judges were deeply disturbed.

A city lawyer Ms Beatrice Mtetwa said she could not give an informed comment on one-sided facts, which have not been established through due process. She, however expressed hope that the JSC would look into the complaint and make an informed decision based on veritable facts.

“The issue of corruption in the justice delivery sector has been with us for a long time and one hopes that all other corruption complaints in the sector will also be thoroughly investigated,” she said.

“I also hope that corruption will not be given a narrow definition, which is limited to money changing hands. There is a lot of corruption associated with political power and influence where the due process is subverted at every turn because powerful litigants are able to pick and choose judges.”

Corruption, she added, was not limited to judicial officers as prosecutors, practicing lawyers, the police had been “known to facilitate corruption, one way or the other”. “Perhaps a commission of inquiry to look into corruption should be set up to look into this evil cancer.”

Another lawyer, Mr Farai Chinhema said the allegations of corruption against the learned judge were not shocking. “Virtually on a daily basis, the Press is pregnant with reports of corruption that permeate every strata of society,” he said.

“All allegations of corruption have not led to any meaningful investigations, let alone prosecution. It means that either the corruption allegations are hollow or, corruption has now been accepted as a way of life.”

Mr Chinhema said he would not be shocked when other persons in society, more important than the learned judge, are implicated in serious cases of corruption. He however, commended the JSC for affording Justice Chigumba an opportunity to comment on the allegations levelled against her.

“It would have been improper for them not to raise the issue with her seeing as it is that JSC’s take on the matter has a bearing on the assessment of the learned judge’s suitability for the post,” he said.

“It’s heartening to note that there is an arm of State that considers corruption a vice worth rooting out.” Mr Joel Mambara, also a senior lawyer, said an agent in the matter, whose name was withheld, should also be censored.

“He is an accessory to the offence,” said Mr Mambara. “He cannot go scot-free. The mere fact that he (allegedly) agreed to carry the message and obviously to receive the loot, and go with it to the judge does not absolve him from the offence. In fact, bribe is a two way traffic — the giver and the receiver.”

Mr Obert Gutu a senior partner at Gutu, Chikowero Law Practice, said corruption should never be tolerated whether it is within the justice delivery system or in any other sector for that matter. “That said, I am unable to condemn Justice Chigumba simply because unproven allegations of corruption have been levelled against her,” he said.

“If there’s a prima facie case of corruption against the learned judge, then the relevant constitutional provisions should be activated to ensure that the allegations are fully and adequately investigated. Let us not rush to crucify and condemn Justice Chigumba before due process has been conducted and concluded.”

Mr Gutu, however, added that corrupt, lazy and incompetent judges have absolutely no business remaining on the High Court bench. The office of a judge, he said, was an honourable and dignified one that should not be occupied by corrupt and dishonourer individuals. It emerged during the interview last week that Justice Chigumba attempted a bribe-harvest of $20 000 from one of the parties in a case she was presiding over.

Justice Chigumba was grilled by members of the JSC led by Chief Justice Chidyausiku over a complaint that it received to the effect that the judge had sent an agent to solicit for a bribe from a Mr Kanokanga who was one of the parties in a case in which she was presiding over.

Justice Chidyausiku said the JSC had received a written complaint from Mr Kanokanga and said while they had asked Justice Chigumba to make a written response, she was obliged to comment on the allegations since the commission was troubled over the allegations given that she was now seeking higher office.