Hungwe escapes censure

via Hungwe escapes censure | The Financial Gazette by Ray Ndlovu 14 Nov 2013

HIGH Court judge Justice Charles Hungwe has been going about his judicial duties as usual amid indications that the powers-that-be shot down attempts by hardliners within the ruling party, ZANU-PF to force the judge to leave the bench, the Financial Gazette can reveal.Daggers had been drawn against Justice Hungwe between March and July this year, as the nation headed towards the July 31 elections overwhelmingly won by ZANU-PF.

Those baying for Justice Hungwe’s head were citing three cases that they felt the High Court judge could have acted improperly.

An order he granted in March for the release of celebrated human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, who was facing charges of obstructing the course of justice after she allegedly tried to block the arrest of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) officials became the tipping point.

The case triggered a backlash from ZANU-PF hardliners, who mobilised the State media to attack the judge.

The MDC-T officials had been arrested on allegations of compiling “dockets” against ZANU-PF officials they accused of being corrupt.

It is alleged that the MDC-T officials were privy to information that was crucial to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission’s attempts to investigate former indigenisation minister Saviour Kasukuwere, former mines and mining development minister Obert Mpofu and former transport and infrastructure development minister Nicholas Goche.

Hungwe became the subject of vicious attacks for reportedly hearing Mtetwa’s bail application at his farm in the dead of the night.

He was also accused of misplacing court records and failing to sentence a murder convict, Jonathan Mutsinze, who has been in remand prison since 2003 after his court record went missing.

It was also alleged that Justice Hungwe had conducted himself improperly in a property wrangle involving two prominent Harare executives.

In the intensity of the attacks, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku had reportedly written to President Mugabe explaining allegations of misconduct against Justice Hungwe in terms of section 87 (3) of the Constitution which deals with the removal of judges from office.

President Mugabe was therefore expected to set up a tribunal to probe Justice Hungwe’s conduct.

But the incumbent has not done so about seven months after Chief Justice Chidyausiku wrote to him.

Authoritative sources said there was no appetite on the part of the President to pursue the matter further hence the issue might die a natural death.

George Charamba, the Presidential spokesperson’s mobile phone went unanswered when sought for comment on the issue.

Analysts, however, said the case came up during the heat of electioneering ahead of the July 31 polls and fizzled out naturally in the aftermath of the elections.

Trevor Maisiri, a political analyst at the International Crisis Group, said with the tense political climate having evaporated, focus inevitably had also shifted from the Justice Hungwe saga.

“The case of Justice Hungwe was viewed from an angle of its potential risk and threats to the elections in 2013. Now that the elections are over, and have gone well in ZANU-PF’s favour, the case has become inconsequential,” he said.

In April, the Centre for Independence of Judges and Lawyers (CIJL) headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland had brought pressure to bear on Chief Justice Chidyausiku to protect the judiciary in Zimbabwe from attacks by politically-connected individuals.

In a letter dated April 2, 2013 CIJL said they were monitoring closely the manner in which the Judiciary Service Commission and the office of the Chief Justice would act to resolve the “unfortunate” incidences relating to Justice Hungwe.

“It believes that judges must be free to discharge their professional duties without any interference and they must be protected in law and practice from attack, harassment and persecution…If there is any misconduct by a judge, expectations from the organisation are that there be open and transparent process undertaken by appropriate authorities guided by the law, rather than a trial by the media and conviction in the court of public opinion,” reads a part of the letter to Chidyausiku.

Zimbabwe has a history of exerting pressure on judges to quit.

In 2001, the party’s parliamentary caucus passed a vote of no confidence in Supreme Court judges.

First to be forced out was the then chief justice Anthony Gubbay who was replaced by the incumbent.

After forcing Gubbay to resign, the purge continued. Others to quit included justice McNally who opposed Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965 and was part of the counsel that lodged a constitutional application against that repressive government in 1968.

Justice McNally was later to reveal that he had told the then justice minister Patrick Chinamasa that he was not taking the minister’s “kind offer” to resign, but would serve until his retirement which was due in less than 10 months.

Also affected was justice Ahmed Ibrahim, a former Attorney General who had previously sat in Cabinet and Parliament with ZANU-PF ministers, but fell out of favour ahead of the bloody and disputed 2002 presidential poll.