Farirai Machivenyika Harare Bureau
THE public is losing confidence in the judiciary due to incompetence and corruption by judicial officials and questionable judgments being passed by the courts, the Senate Thematic Committee on Human Rights, has said.
The committee’s report on the State of the Justice Delivery System in Zimbabwe was presented to Senate by Manicaland Senator Retired Lieutenant General Mike Nyambuya on Wednesday.
“The committee gathered that there are continuing and persistent perceptions among the members of the general public that incompetence and corruption had permeated the judicial system. Issues had therefore, been raised, relating to the accountability of the judiciary to the public, the quality of decisions passed by the Zimbabwean courts and generally about the integrity of those that were entrusted with the responsibility of administering justice in the country.
“Furthermore, concerns were expressed about political interference in the performance of duty by judicial officers in certain instances. Some stakeholders submitted that there are no clear timelines of when urgent applications must be set down for hearing and finalised (with a ruling being handed down). In some cases, urgent applications have been heard and the ruling has been reserved, thereby defeating the whole purpose of filing the urgent court application,” Rtd Lt Gen Nyambuya said.
A number of judicial officers have been arrested for taking bribes to influence court proceedings.
Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku has also acknowledged that corruption is affecting the integrity of the justice delivery system.
He bemoaned low salaries and poor working conditions for fuelling the vice.
Rtd Lt Gen Nyambuya said the committee was concerned that some people were ignoring court orders.
“The committee was informed of the defiance of court orders which is perpetuated by the weak contempt of court procedures. Defiance of court orders undermines the independence of the judiciary and erodes protection of the law, which the judiciary gives effect to in rulings and judgments,” he said.
Rtd Lt Gen Nyambuya said the public had raised concern in delays in handing out judgments saying this affected citizens’ rights to access justice.
“Stakeholders voiced concern on the delays in justice delivery. They argued that there are a number of court cases that have been pending for over six years. This has negatively impacted on the right to access justice for citizens and has also contributed to overcrowding in prisons,” he said.
Officially opening the 2015 legal year Justice Chidyausiku also blasted some “lazy” judges whom he accused of delivering few judgments in 2014 and accused them of hiding behind constitutional provisions that protects them from being removed from office.
Without mentioning names, Chief Justice Chidyausiku accused four High Court judges of delivering a combined 33 judgments last year compared to 72 that were delivered by Justice Nicholas Mathonsi single-handedly over the same period.
He urged the judges to justify their demands for better working conditions by working harder.
The committee bemoaned the composition of the National Prosecuting Authority saying the engagement of police prosecutors was affecting the independence of the judiciary.
“The Committee remains concerned at the continued engagement of police prosecutors in the justice delivery system. This compromises the independence of the NPA as police are members of the Executive, who as law enforcement agents, are tasked with investigating the same crimes that they then prosecute as police prosecutors,” Rtd Lt Gen Nyambuya said.