Fidelis Munyoro Chief Court Reporter
Most judges of the High Court must have endured the most difficult and tension-filled year after Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku warned of possible expulsions for poor performance when he officially opened the 2015 legal year, which ended early this month.
It was work under protest, but with a constructive bearing. In his remarks, Chief Justice Chidyausiku slammed High Court judges, describing a majority of them as lazy.
He said the situation was so bad that one judge had only managed to write one judgment throughout the preceding year.
He singled out three judges – Justices Nicholas Mathonsi, Susan Mavangira and Priscillah Chigumba – as judicial work horses.
The remarks did not go down well with the other 21 judges who later launched a blistering attack on the Chief Justice describing him as “out of touch with modern trends in the justice delivery system”.
They challenged Chief Justice Chidyausiku through a petition signed by 21 out of 24 judges to “correct the wrong impression created” and repair the damage inflicted on their reputation and dignity for criticising them in public.
However, the spat between High Court judges and the Chief Justice brought in new diktat at the higher court as efficiency and better time management in judicial proceedings breathed life into the justice delivery system.
Since then more cases have been concluded and judgments delivered on time while a few with technical catches were rolled over to next year.
The delivery of justice is critical in creating a thriving society. Failure to deliver justice can lead to public dejection.
The year, however, started off on a busy note as a result of the goings on in the two main political parties – Zanu-PF and the MDC-T. The ruling party expelled senior members such as Didymus Mutasa, Joice Mujuru, Rugare Gumbo, Temba Mliswa, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti and David Butau, leading to court challenges.
The MDC-T had the likes of Tendai Biti and many others challenging their expulsion in the superior courts. But the litigations subsided as the year progressed.
The introduction of a case tracking system to monitor the movement of court records in the course of the year under review was a notable improvement as this enhanced the country’s justice delivery system.
Days of records disappearing are over due to the new system.
Over the years, the justice system has developed invaluable forms of checks and balances aimed at achieving quality work in the courts and mid this year the JSC launched a case tracking system. The system makes it easier for courts to track all records.
The tracking system was welcomed by many people as it reduced cases of missing documents at the courts.
A case in point was the record of proceedings in the murder case of Jonathan Mutsinze that disappeared at the close of the defence case in 2003.
Justice Charles Hungwe presided over the case and was blamed for the missing record, but he was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Constitutional Court in September last year.
Mutsinze was later sentenced to life imprisonment after spending 10 years in remand prison.
The JSC, which is striving for world class justice, introduced an e-mail inquiries facility at the High Court in Harare in August this year.
This is an expansion of and an off-shoot of the electronic case tracking system.
While a case is pending, the facility is available to all law firms who are the legal practitioners of record for any of the parties to the suit. The facility can be used to get updates on all cases, pending and completed, that were filed with the High Court, Harare Registry from January 2011 to date.
It is also available in a limited fashion for inquiries regarding active cases that were filed between 2000 and 2010.
All legal practitioners and self-actors who have registered their e-mail addresses with the Registrar of the High Court can use the facility by sending an inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Indeed the law firms and litigating public found this service of benefit.
Another development worth noting in the judiciary this year was the appointment of three Supreme Court and six High Court judges in September.
This went a long way in supporting the integrity and confidence–building measures for the justice system – in judicial efficiency, decongesting backlog of cases and reducing court delays.
The three new Supreme Court judges sworn in are Justices Susan Mavangira, Chinembiri Energy Bhunu and Tendai Fanuel Uchena while the six judges appointed to the High Court bench were Justices Davison Moses Foroma, Jester Helena Charehwa, Tawanda Chitapi, Clement Phiri, Edith Kuda Mushore and Nyaradzo Priscilla Munangate-Manongwa.
The judges who comprise four female and five males were the first to be sworn in after Zimbabwe adopted a new system where judges are interviewed in public in terms of the new Constitution.
The swearing in of the nine judges was presided over by the Chief Justice. The occasion is the first of its kind in the history of judicial system in Zimbabwe.
In terms of the old Constitution, judges were sworn in by the President and this is the first time that Chief Justice Chidyausiku has presided over the swearing in ceremony.
In terms of Section 185 (2) of the new Constitution of Zimbabwe, judges must take a judicial oath before the Chief Justice.
Zimbabwe now has 13 female High Court judges out of 32 and six women Supreme Court judges out of 13.
The selection process of judges took note of the different religions as it has included a Muslim, Justice Foroma, who took his oath of office without the traditional Bible.
The judges were selected from a group of 56 candidates who participated in the inaugural public interviews conducted last year by the JSC.
This month the JSC announced moves to decentralise the High Court to all the country’s provinces, with Masvingo set to have the first permanent seat of the superior court for a rural province.
This shows the JSC’s serious intention to improve the justice delivery system in the court as it reaches out to marginalised areas, whose litigants had to travel to either Harare or Bulawayo for litigation.
Masvingo is poised to become the third to have resident judges after Harare and Bulawayo metropolitan provinces.
Either Gweru or Mutare will have the High Court established in the province in the next two years.
“In terms of organisation of the judiciary, we witnessed speedier handling of matters and of particular importance was the introduction of the e-service platform by the High Court,” said veteran lawyer Mr Terence Hussein.
“Through the platform, enquiries to the Registrar can now be done electronically, cutting down on time spent visiting the High Court.”
Another veteran lawyer Mr Obert Gutu said: ‘‘It was a dramatic legal year indeed,” adding that the Zuva Petroleum judgment that was handed down on July 17 2015 re-defined the law of termination of employment contracts in a very big way.
“In a few weeks, thousands of employees lost their jobs, courtesy of the Zuva judgment. By the time Parliament intervened by amending the Labour Act around August and September, 2015, untold damage had visited thousands of desperate employees.”
He hailed additional judges appointed to both the High Court and the Supreme Court and expressed hope these new judges would help in ensuring that cases are heard and completed faster than before.
“The legal profession expects that a situation where cases will take inordinately long periods of time to be completed will soon be a thing of the past,” he said.
“We also welcome the announcement by the Judicial Service Commission that there are advanced plans to have permanent seats of the High Court in smaller cities such as Masvingo, Mutare and Gweru.”
Mr Gutu said such a development would help bring justice closer to the people.
“As lawyers, we prefer a situation whereby justice is taken to the people as opposed to a set up where people are taken to justice,’’ he said.
Another lawyer Mr Albert Chambati said: “The 2015 legal year was ground breaking and eventful.
This year we saw a number of judgments that changed the lives of many for the better for the sex workers and for the worse for the ordinary worker.”
On a sad note, the judiciary was twice plunged into mourning in March and August this year.
Retired Supreme Court judge Justice Wislon Sandura died in March following a car accident that occurred on February 28 in Madziva. He was 74.
Later in August Justice Andrew Mutema who was stationed in Bulawayo collapsed and died at Mater Dei Hospital.
He was conferred with national hero status, becoming the first judge to be buried at the National Heroes Acre.