More courts to be built in Matabeleland North Deputy Chief Justice Elizabeth Gwaunza (second right) and other judges arrive for the official opening of the 2023 Legal year at the Bulawayo High Court yesterday

Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Senior Reporter 

THE JUDICIAL Service Commission (JSC) intends to build more courts in Matabeleland North Province to bring justice closer to the people while the Gwanda Magistrates complex, whose construction resumed in 2022 after a 10-year halt, is set to be commissioned this year. 

Deputy Chief Justice Elizabeth Gwaunza 

The construction of more courts is in line with the constitutional principle of devolution of essential services and infrastructural development. 

It also falls within the Government and JSC policy to take the justice delivery system to the people in line with National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1).

Speaking during the official opening of the 2023 legal year at the Bulawayo High Court yesterday, Deputy Chief Justice Elizabeth Gwaunza said while the Commission had done well in constructing more courts countrywide, there is still scope for improvement in Matabeleland North. The event was held under the theme: “Promoting competence and quality of service to enhance public confidence in the judiciary.”

Bulawayo High Court of Zimbabwe

Similar events were held in Harare and other provinces. Parts of Herbert Chitepo Street and 8th Avenue in Bulawayo were temporarily closed during the event which started at 10 AM and ended at 1PM.

 In her address, Justice Gwaunza said the commissioning of the new Lupane Magistrates’ Court in September last year was testimony to JSC’s policy of ensuring easy access to justice for everyone. Before the court was constructed, proceedings were held from three offices belonging to the District Development Coordinator. “We are happy but there is room for improvement as observable from the fact that, at present, the Province has only four operational magistrates’ court stations. These are located in Victoria Falls, Hwange, Binga and the recently commissioned Lupane court complex. The stations are wholly insufficient to fully accommodate the interests of the large population located in the Province,” said Justice Gwaunza. 

“The people from Matabeleland North travel long distances to access the nearest court. This is not ideal. In this regard, the Judicial Service Commission is considering opening resident magistrates’ courts at places such as Dete and Kamativi. The institution of the modalities for opening an additional court in the province is to be undertaken without delay.” 

Justice Gwaunza said the Commission also resumed the construction of the Gwanda Magistrates’ Court Complex in May 2022 after a decade-long halt due to budgetary constraints.

“The anticipated commissioning of the facility in 2023 will alleviate the institutional challenges being experienced at the station. 

“At present, the entire court station relies on three courtrooms to service all its functions. The reason for outlining the ongoing projects is to reinforce the fact that the Judiciary relies on financial support from the Government to be able to deliver on its mandate,” she said.

“It is crucial that this partnership continues, as the Judiciary is committed to the successful implementation of the National Development Strategy 1 (“NDS1”) being pursued by the Government.” 

Meanwhile, Justice Gwaunza said failure to deal with allegations of corruption in the courts may result in the loss of public confidence in the criminal justice system.

 “Currently there are 147 corruption-related cases pending in the courts. Of these cases, 89 cases are either in progress or have been finalised, with 16 cases having trial dates, whilst for 52 cases trials have commenced while 21 cases have already been finalised,” said Justice Gwaunza. 

She said the JSC received hundreds of complaints from members of the public, legal practitioners and other Government agencies during the course of the year.

“During the year under review, 322 complaints made by persons who in one way or another had contact with the courts were received. The policy is that each complaint must be properly investigated and the complainant given feedback without delay. Whilst some of the complaints related to grievances against decisions made by the courts which can only be dealt with in terms of court processes, those that had merit were attended to and remedial action taken. This again is done in the spirit of improving quality service to the public.”

Justice Gwaunza also added that the High Court has about 1 000 outstanding murder cases countrywide which is a cause for concern. 

“Serious concern has arisen relating to the slow movement and finalisation of criminal matters, especially murder cases. Statistics show that there are in excess of one thousand murder cases pending indictment to the High Court for trial,” she said. 

“The attendant difficulties and anxiety experienced by the accused persons waiting for trial, the witnesses including complainants who would want closure to cases, and members of the public with interest in the outcome of the trials cannot be ignored.

“Any lethargic approach in the disposition of criminal matters by stakeholders in the justice sector regrettably points to the incompetence of the system and erodes public confidence in the justice system. It is important that all stakeholders in the criminal justice system, especially the Judiciary, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Law Society of Zimbabwe, perform their respective functions efficiently so that the unacceptable situation is eliminated.” 

Deputy Chief Justice Elizabeth Gwaunza inspect a quarter guard before the official opening of the 2023 Legal year at the Bulawayo Highcourt of Zimbabwe.

Justice Gwaunza said as of 31 December 2022, a total of 1 574 cases had been registered in the integrated electronic case management system (IECMS) for the three courts, of which 494 virtual court sessions successfully took place. 

Presently, there are 5 877 IECMS registered users, of whom 758 are law firms, 2 522 are legal practitioners and the rest are members of the public.

“The IECMS has ensured that the duties of the various actors in the judicial system, such as registrars and their subordinates, are tracked with timestamps detailing the exact dates and times of action. Litigants can now view the status and progress of their cases without relying solely on the word of their legal practitioner or the sometimes curt responses of court staff. Conversely, the ability of court staff to go on frolics of their own while neglecting their duties has been restricted by the accountability features of the digital platform.

Justice Gwaunza said the target is to have all the courts digitalised and in February, work will begin to digitalise the labour and the administrative court. 

In 2022, the Constitutional Court handled 83 cases of which 63 were completed while the Supreme Court registered a total of 1 100 cases of which 739 were completed. 

The administrative courts handled 57 of the 97 recorded cases while the regional courts completed 7 528 of the 11 598 cases recorded during the same period. 

During the same period, a total of 99 334 cases were recorded in the criminal courts and 91 519 of those were completed. — @thamamoe.

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