Senior Court Reporter
DIVORCE and other civil lawsuits at the High Court went up by at least 50 percent this year, a development Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa says necessitates the appointment of more judges.
Speaking on the sidelines of the swearing in ceremony for four new High Court judges last week, Minister Chinamasa said the High Court this year opened up to 18 000 civil cases.He said divorce cases topped the list.
Last year ended with 12 759 civil cases, an indication that litigation rose over one year.
Social workers attribute the surge in divorce cases to economic challenges.
Long distance relationships in which spouses leave the country in search of greener pastures in the Diaspora also contributed to the high number of divorce cases.
The rate at which people were suing, Minister Chinamasa said, was a cause for concern and an indication that something was wrong in the society.
“This year litigation has reached unprecedented levels for reasons that we do not know. This year, up to 18 000 new civil files were opened, an indication that something is wrong. When I say litigation, I mean divorce, family matters and other civil lawsuits.
“The rate at which people are divorcing is alarming and people have become too litigious. The actual reason, I cannot tell, but it shows something is wrong somewhere.”
The minister said the swearing in of the new judges — Justices David Mangota, Priscilla Chigumba, Joseph Mafusire and Maxwell Takuva — was aimed at trying to cope with the increasing litigation.
“We are trying to meet pressing demand. We appointed the four additional judges so that the court is able to cope with the increased litigation,” he said.
Council of social workers registrar Mr Makalima Mlilo said economic challenges were pushing up the divorce rate.
“Financial problems are the root of most conflicts in families. Such conflicts lead to divorce. If there is no cash for food, school fees and other basic needs in a family, there is always violence,” said Mr Mlilo.
He said domestic violence awareness campaigns were also contributing to most divorces in the country.
“In the past, women would stay in a violent marriage under duress, but now that awareness campaigns are being carried out, some can now decide to move out of an abusive relationship,” he said.
Mr Mlilo said Zimbabweans in the Diaspora were also contributing towards the ballooning divorce rate.
“Due to financial challenges, most couples separated as one spouse leaves for United Kingdom, Botswana, South Africa, United States of America and other countries in search of greener pastures.
“That has caused marriage break-ups as most couples are failing to maintain long distance relationships,” he said.
Before the appointment of the four judges last week, the High Court in Harare had 20 judges while Bulawayo had five.
Friday’s swearing in of the four brought the total number of judges to 29 in the country.
Minister Chinamasa said the 29 judges were not enough.
“We still need more judges to cope with the rate at which people are suing,” he said.
Financial constraints were hampering the expansion of the High Court to other towns other than Bulawayo and Harare.
“We wish we could establish the High Court in other towns, but due to financial challenges we cannot do it now.
“If funds permit it is our intention to set up the High Court in other towns so that everyone accesses justice,” he said.
Justice Mangota joined the bench after serving the Government as secretary in the Justice and Legal Affairs Ministry for 11 years.
He is also a former chief magistrate. He also worked as senior regional magistrate and a regional magistrate for years.
Justice Chigumba practiced as a lawyer with Gollop and Blank before establishing her own law firm PM Chigumba and Associates.
She also worked for PG Industries as company secretary before joining the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs as a magistrate.
At the time of her swearing in as a judge, she was a provincial magistrate attached to the Office of the Chief Justice as chief researcher.
Justice Mafusire was a senior partner with Scanlen and Holderness and served the firm for 26 years.
He was also a part-time business administration lecturer at Harare Polytechnic and Christian College of Southern Africa.
Justice Takuva was moved from the Labour Court where he was a president.
He also practiced as a prosecutor for years and at one point he held the position of chief law officer in the Attorney General’s Office.