THE proceedings in the trial of former chief magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe at the High Court were on Friday nullified because the judge is presiding over the trial alone without assessors as required by the law.
Guvamombe is being accused of criminal abuse of office after he allegedly offered attachment to former Cabinet ministers Supa Mandiwanzira and Saviour Kasukuwere, who were law students, at the Harare Magistrates’ Courts, where the duo was being tried on corruption-related charges.
Justice Felistus Chatukuta told both the defence and prosecution counsel that she had flouted provisions of Section 3(b) of the High Court Act in dealing, with a constitutional matter which requires a judge to sit with two assessors during a criminal proceeding.
She then nullified the proceedings of the preceding two days and restarted the trial.
Two State witnesses Mr Sithembinkosi Msipa, the deputy secretary in Judicial Service Commission and Mr Elisha Singano, regional magistrate in Bulawayo had given their evidence, but had to be recalled to testify afresh before a properly constituted court.
The two, however, testified after JSC secretary Mr Walter Chikwana had given his evidence.
In his evidence, Mr Chikwanha told the court that at the time of the Mandiwanzira and Kasukuwere’s internship, in November 2018, there were no policy framework on how students would be accepted for internship in the judicial system.
“In some case, a university writes requesting for a certain group to be considered for attachment, while in certain circumstances students would approach the JSC directly, but with a letter from their university,” he said.
“In some cases, the students or universities directly approached some departments within judicial system and have their internships approved.”
Mr Chikwanha said there were circulars on how the institution dealt with attachment, adding that, “if one approached the JSC we would refer a student to a department concerned and they would be handled by departments heads.”
He said after the case of the two former ministers cropped up in November 2018, the JSC decided that it now had to be procedural.
Under cross examination by Guvamombe’s lawyer Mr Jonathan Samukange, Mr Chikwanha confirmed his testimony that there were no set guidelines on the procedure.
Mr Msipa gave his testimony for the second time.
Mr Samukange took issue with his testimony saying he was changing his evidence from what he told the court on the first day of the trial, which was quashed.
The prosecutor Mr Whisper Mabhaudi objected to the defence cross examining the witness alluding to the expunged proceedings.
But Mr Samukange stuck to his guns reminding the court that his questions to the witness were legitimate.
He said Mr Msipa’s evidence could not be nullified in the circumstances and his credibility could equally be tested on both evidence which he gave under oath.
“What has been quashed is the proceedings and not the witness’ evidence,” said Mr Samukange adding, “I can make reference to his previous testimony. I am perfectly entitled to do so.”
This prompted Justice Felistus Chatukuta to take a brief adjournment to consider the objection.
When the court reconvened, Justice Chatukuta ruled in favour of the defence.
She said procedurally, the evidence which Mr Msipa gave before the proceedings were quashed could not be affected at all and the defence can still refer to the testimony.
Guvamombe is also facing charges of defeating the course of justice after he allegedly directed a subordinate, Mr Elijah Makomo, to recuse himself in a trial involving his alleged business partner’s son.
He is denying the charges, claiming that the allegations against him were inspired by malice on the part of his colleagues whom he had reprimanded for sexually harassing female members of staff, including magistrates.