By Lloyd Takawira
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has raised a red flag over the partiality of the judicial system following Chief Justice Luke Malaba directive that judges must first submit judgements to him before handing them down.
In a communique, ZLHR said judicial independence is the bedrock of any nation’s democracy.
“Independence of judiciary is the hallmark of democracy. @ZLHRLawyers calls on Chief Justice to safeguard independence of judges, guarantee & their individual independence.
“ZLHR recommends institutional reforms to enable judges to deliver on their mandate. Government of Zimbabwe has United Nations & African Union Treaty obligations to guarantee the independence of the judiciary.
“Government of Zimbabwe voluntarily accepted to take measures that guarantee independence of judiciary during the United Nations Human Rights Council led Universal Periodic Review Mechanism held in Geneva in 2011 & in 2016.”
The human rights lawyers added that they were alarmed by Malaba’s directive which undermined judicial independence.
On 16 July 2020, the Chief Justice of Zimbabwe issued a directive to the High Court and Labour Court to address concerns raised on the handing down of judgements.
The Directive required all ‘Orders or Judgements’ of the High Courts and Labour Court be seen and approved by the Head of Court or Division before such Judgements or Orders are issued or handed down.
This Directive was subsequently modified on 17 July 2020 requiring all the judgements be seen by the Head of Court or Division before being issued. The modification makes no difference to the provision in the Directive, which remains a concern.
ZLHR said, “The provision of the Directive is an unacceptable assault on the principle of independence of the judiciary. This comes at a time when constitutional amendments have been introduced which if enacted will erode provisions on the independence of the judiciary. The principle of Judicial independence is two-pronged and encapsulates both institutional and individual independence. Institutional independence relates to the ability of judges to work in an environment free of any external influence; it reinforces the concept of separation of powers between the executive. the legislature and the judiciary. In this case, the individual independence of judges is under threat”.
Heal Zimbabwe also weighed on the issue.
Heal Zimbabwe in a tweet said, “Judiciary must be impartial and independent of all external pressures so that those appearing before it & the wider public can have confidence that their cases will be decided fairly and in accordance with the law.”