Criminal defamation ‘unjustifiable’

Harare Bureau
The Constitutional Court yesterday confirmed its interim finding declaring criminal defamation unjustifiable in a democratic society. In June this year the highest court in the land unanimously ruled that criminal defamation must be struck off the statutes because it was not a justifiable law in a democratic Zimbabwe. Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku yesterday upheld the earlier finding that Section 96 of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act was at variance with the old Constitution.

He said an appropriate order would be issued in due course.
“The rule nisi is hereby confirmed and an appropriate order will be issued in due course,” ruled the Chief Justice.

Prior to the confirmation of the decision, the court had invited Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa to defend the law if he so wished, before a final declaration was passed.

Deputy Attorney General (Civil Division) Advocate Prince Machaya, yesterday agreed with the court’s finding but argued that the finding was only in relation to the old Constitution.

“We consent to the confirmation of the finding but the finding was made in the former Constitution and there is no such finding as regards the new Constitution,” he said.

The Constitutional Court ruled against the law in a case brought by former Standard newspaper editor Nevanji Madanhire and reporter Nqaba Matshazi, who were being charged with criminally defaming Green Card chairperson, Dr Munyaradzi Kereke.

The nine-member bench held that criminalising defamation violated people’s freedom of expression and muzzled the media.
The court found that the right of bringing a civil suit for damages adequately protected defamed people.

The journalists, charged with breaching Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, were seeking permanent stay of prosecution and a repeal of the section from the statutes, saying it was unconstitutional.

Madanhire and Matshazi were arrested after Dr Kereke reported to the police that they criminally defamed him in an article published in the Standard newspaper of November 6, 2011.

The article said Green Card was on the brink of collapse and failing to pay members, staff and creditors.
A Harare magistrate referred the case to the Constitutional Court after a successful application for such by the journalists.

Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court has struck off the roll a related case in which the Standard newspaper was seeking permanent stay of prosecution on charges of criminal defamation.

Yesterday, Sharon Fero from the National Prosecuting Authority, appeared before the full bench but there was no appearance from the newspaper’s side.
To that end, Fero successfully applied for the matter to be struck off the court roll.

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