The Prosecutor General (PG)’s Office has come under scrutiny by the judiciary over unnecessary delays in dealing with criminal trials that have caused the clogging of the courts with partly heard matters and the attendant problems.
BY SILAS NKALA
The revelations were made by High Court Judge President Justice George Chiweshe during the official opening of the 2016 legal year in Bulawayo on Monday.
“Prosecutor-General (Johannes Tomana) is responsible for setting down cases. In doing so, it is important that reasonable time be allocated to specific cases bearing in mind the estimated length of trial,” Justice Chiweshe said.
“In many instances, some trials with multi-accused persons charged jointly have been allocated a period of two days when it is clear that the trial cannot be concluded within that time. As a result, we are now clogged with partly heard matters and the attendant problems.”
The Judge President said pro-Deo legal practitioners often pitched up ill-prepared and unable to commence trials and as a result, postponements were inevitable. “The standard of preparation and effort is often below the expected levels,” he said.
“In many cases, the State has failed to secure the attendances of witnesses and accused persons, thereby leading to unnecessary delays. There has not been much activity by way of prison visits by judges. Prison visits are important as they afford the prisoners an opportunity to present their complaints to a visiting judge who ordinarily wields power and influence to direct appropriate action on the part of prisons, police, prosecutors and other court officials.”
Justice Chiweshe said some legal practitioners do not turn up on the date of hearing. As a result, a number of criminal appeals were being dismissed for want of prosecution.
The judge also lamented lack of courtrooms for civil matters, saying judges ended up wasting time taking turns to use the few available courtrooms.
“Increasingly, junior practitioners are being dispatched to the courts by their seniors without any guidance,” Justice Chiweshe said.
“As a result, the standard of pleadings and arguments has fallen below acceptable levels. We have previously advised the Law Society of Zimbabwe accordingly. Some legal practitioners are double-booking themselves, thereby leading to unnecessary postponements and delays in concluding matters.”
The Judge President also rapped High Court judges for stampeding to churn out judgments most of them of little or no jurisprudential value.
“The delivery of judgments of this court has in recent years generated a lot of controversy. Traditionally, cases have been resolved in one or more ways,” he said.
He said the current directive is that all judgments be treated as reportable and posted on the website. He said the result has been that judgments of little or no significance are given the status they do not deserve and are also posted on the website as if they were Zimbabwe’s best.
“If your deliver an ex tempore judgment in court, your efforts will not be recognised,” he said.
“The editorial staff responsible for selection and compilation of judgments for inclusion in the law reports is having a torrid time sifting through such volumes of judgments hoping to find those judgments that meet the criteria for inclusion in the law reports. My question is: Should a superior court such as the High Court operate in this manner? Should this be the practice of this court?”