Daniel Nemukuyu, Harare Bureau
TWENTY-NINE aspiring High Court judges have proved that they cannot write a judgment, an elementary skill that every judge must possess.
For fear of more embarrassment, four of the candidates — part of the 10 lawyers lined up to be interviewed for the High Court judges’ posts yesterday — chickened out and walked out of the waiting room with tails between their legs.
The panel, that was made up of 10 commissioners from the Judicial Service Commission, had to adjourn early after dealing with the remaining six candidates.
Out of 43 candidates who on Friday sat for a two-hour exercise to test the candidates’ ability to write judgments ahead of the public interviews for the selection of eight High Court judges, only 14 passed.
Dr Elizabeth Rutsate, Mr Graciano Manyurureni, Mr Passmore Mabukwa and Mr Cassian Jakachira, who failed the pre-interview exercise conducted on Friday, packed their belongings and left the waiting room after the announcement of the written test results.
In his remarks at the beginning of the public interviews yesterday, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku registered his displeasure over a poor show by the 29, saying judgment writing skill was a pre-requisite for all judges.
“I am somewhat disappointed to report that out of the 43 candidates who turned up for the exercise, only 14 obtained a passing mark of five and above out of the total mark of 10.
“The Judicial Service Commission regards the writing of judgments as the competence of any judge. It is like the possession of a driver’s licence for all drivers,” said the Chief Justice.
The judiciary services boss advised those who failed the preliminary test to carefully reconsider whether they should attend the public interviews.
“In view of the poor performance by most of the candidates during the pre-interview assessment exercise, I am calling upon all those who did not pass this elementary exercise to introspect and decide on whether they want to proceed with the interviews or wait until they are ready and can pass this preliminary hurdle,” he said.
Chief Justice Chidyausiku said it was not an easy task for the JSC to recommend for appointment someone who has failed the basic level.
“We believe that it will be dereliction of duty on the part of the JSC to recommend to the appointing authority, the appointment of a person who fails at this elementary level to appreciate the nature of the matter that is before them or the issues that they have to decide, or the law applicable in resolving the matter,” he said.
Chief Justice Chidyausiku however, said it was a constitutional right for all candidates to participate in the interviews and persuade the panel that despite their poor showing at the pre-interview stage, they should be appointed to the High Court bench.
Mr Benjamin Chikowero of Gutu Chikowero Legal practitioners was the first to appear before the panel.
He was among those who passed the pre-interview test and he told the panel that he was qualified for the post.
Bindura-based lawyer Mr Zvidzai Kajokoto of Kajokoto and company was grilled over his persistence with the interview despite scoring 40 percent in the judgment writing test.
Chief Justice Chidyausiku said: “You want us to have faith in you when you demonstrated that you cannot write a judgment? Your mark was very low. It was four out of 10.”
Mr Kajokoto defended himself saying it was his first time to write a judgment and that given a chance, he would improve.
“It was my first time to write a judgment given that I have never been on the bench. Given time, I will be able to write good judgments.
“If I got four out of 10 on my first judgment, then it means I am not that bad,” he said.
Mr Pisirayi Kwenda of Kwenda and Associates, who came tops in the pre-interview test with 83 percent, responded to questions without any glitch.
He explained to the panel why he thinks he could be a good judge. “I chaired various commissions of inquiry for local authorities. I was never influenced by public opinion and I decided my cases fairly and in terms of the law,” he said.
Mr Kwenda is an experienced lawyer who worked in the Attorney General’s office and rose through the ranks to be head of the Appeals Section.
He left for private practice and also presided over disputes as an arbitrator.
Drama unfolded when a Murewa-based lawyer Mr Godfrey Macheyo got his chance to respond to questions.
Mr Macheyo, a former regional magistrate, dug his own grave when he cited a High Court judgment to substantiate his claims that he had appeared in the superior courts representing clients.
The judgment, in fact, blasted him for doing a disservice to his client and labelled him a liar and a lawyer who presented unhelpful arguments.
He was attacked left, right and centre over the judgment by several commissioners who felt his conduct was unwarranted in that particular case.
The interviews continue today with 10 others appearing before the commissioners.