Daniel Nemukuyu Senior Court Reporter—
The Supreme Court will today determine the “correctness or otherwise” of a decision by High Court judge Justice Charles Hungwe to suspend public interviews in the selection of a new Chief Justice pending amendment of the Constitution. Justice Hungwe on December 11 last year, suspended the interview process after a successful application by a University of Zimbabwe law student, Mr Romeo Taombera Zibani.
The judge was convinced by Mr Zibani’s submissions that the process was not fair and that Government had embarked on a process to amend the Constitution with a view to doing away with public interviews in the selection of a Chief Justice.
He stopped the interviews to allow Government to amend the supreme law. However, the Judicial Service Commission noted an appeal at the Supreme Court and proceeded to hold public interviews in respect of three nominated candidates who were in attendance — Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba, Justice Rita Makarau and Justice Paddington Garwe.
Judge President George Chiweshe, who was also lined up for the interviews, did not turn up.
The process of amending the Constitution to enable the President to hand-pick a Chief Justice without public interviews is already in motion. All is now set for the Supreme Court to hear the appeal and today the parties will present their oral arguments before a five-member bench.
Advocate Sylvester Hashiti, instructed by Mr Jonathan Samukange of Venturas and Samukange, represented Mr Zibani while Mr Ephraim Mukucha appeared for Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister and the President.
Mr Addington Chinake of Kantor and Immerman law firm acted for the JSC. Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku retires end of month and the JSC, in terms of Section 180 of the Constitution, had initiated a process to select the successor through public interviews.
An affidavit by Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Permanent Secretary Mrs Virginia Mabhiza was presented in court, confirming the amendment process is already in motion.
Mr Zibani, a fourth year student at UZ, argued that Chief Justice Chidyausiku, who chairs the Judicial Service Commission, had closely worked with all the four nominees and that it was not fair and proper for him to be part of the interviewing panel.
Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba, Supreme Court judges Justices Rita Makarau and Paddington Garwe together with Judge President George Chiweshe, were nominated to battle it out in the public interviews.
Justices Chiweshe and Malaba are also JSC commissioners, which Mr Zibani said would also compromise the fairness of the interview process. To that end, Mr Zibani wanted the High Court to order Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to initiate an amendment of Section 180 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe to allow President Mugabe to use his discretion to appoint a Chief Justice without going through the interview process.
Alternatively, Mr Zibani proposed the setting up of an independent panel comprising retired judges to preside over the public interviews. Some of the panellists, according to Mr Zibani, were junior to the four nominees, creating challenges for them to interview their bosses.
Mr Zibani described the relationship between Chief Justice Chidyausiku and the four candidates as “incestuous”.