Judges slammed for failure to visit prison inmates

Judge President George Chiweshe delivers his speech at the official opening of the 2016 legal year of the High Court in Bulawayo yesterday. Listening (from left) are Justice Martin Makonese and Justice Francis Bere

Judge President George Chiweshe delivers his speech at the official opening of the 2016 legal year of the High Court in Bulawayo yesterday. Listening (from left) are Justice Martin Makonese and Justice Francis Bere

Auxilia Katongomara Chronicle Reporter
JUDGE president Justice George Chiweshe has criticised judges over their failure to conduct periodic visits to the country’s prisons to meet inmates.

Officially opening the 2016 legal year in Bulawayo, Justice Chiweshe cited lack of prison visits as well as the conduct of officials from the Prosecutor General’s office as some of the general matters affecting the justice delivery system.

“There hasn’t been much activity by way of prison visits by judges. This must be addressed. Prison visits are important as they afford the prisoners an opportunity to present their complaints to a visiting judge who ordinarily wields sufficient power and influence to direct appropriate action on the part of the prisons, police, prosecutors and other court officials,” he said. Justice Chiweshe took a swipe at the Prosecutor General Office, state and pro-deo lawyers for contributing to the court backlog.

“The prosecutor general is responsible for setting down cases. In doing so, it’s important that reasonable time be allocated to specific cases bearing in mind the estimated length of trial. In many instances some trials with multi accused persons charged jointly have been allocated a period of two days when it’s clear that the trials can’t be concluded within that time frame,” he said.

Justice Chiweshe said as a result the courts were clogged with partially heard matters.

“Pro-deo legal practitioners often pitch up ill prepared and unable to commence trial. Postponements arise a lot as a result. The standard of preparation and effort is often below expected levels,” he said.

Justice Chiweshe said the state also caused unnecessary delays and inconveniences by failing to secure the attendance of witnesses and accused persons in court.

He said the Registrar of the High Court had completed an audit of all High Court matters filed over a 10-year period from 2002 to 2012 at the Harare Station.

Justice Chiweshe said a similar exercise is underway at the Bulawayo station and the outcome would be known by April.

He said there are plans to decentralise operations of the High Court to other provinces.

“The present circuit court centres namely Gweru, Hwange-Lupane, Masvingo and Mutare will be upgraded to the status of fully fledged High Court stations.

“This development is long overdue and owing to budgetary and other constraints, it is not feasible to decentralise in the short term,” Justice Chiweshe said.

He said the decentralisation would begin with the upgrade of Masvingo circuit centre as work was already in progress.

The station would operate as a regional rather than provincial court covering neighbouring provinces of Midlands, Matabeleland South and Manicaland.

“A report produced by the Chief Registrar indicates that there are 46,889 inactive files that clog the (Harare) High Court civil registry. These comprise of summons and applications filed for the 10 year period between 2002 and 2012,” revealed Justice Chiweshe.

He said the actual backlog statistics have been inflated by the inclusion of dormant files in the backlog statistics.

“Of the above figures more than 20,000 are idle summons and applications which were never served upon the defendants or respondents. The remainder are cases where summons or applications were served but for some reason the proceedings were never pursued,” Justice Chiweshe said.

“We estimate, based on the current figures, that the true backlog figures would not amount to anything further than a term’s workload”.

He said although it was not possible to eradicate all forms of backlog as there are new cases filed on a daily basis, the High Court was adopting a number of interventions to clear the backlog.

These include the immediate separation in the statistics of dormant or inactive files from the active files and rules being amended to include a provision deeming all matters inactive for a period of at least three months from the date of filing or most six months from such date to have been abandoned and therefore archievable.

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