THERE was intensified erosion of the rule of law and persistent attempts to undermine the independence of the judiciary throughout the just-ended year, the Law Society
of Zimbabwe (LSZ) has said.
LSZ president Sternford Moyo said in his end-of-year report that 2003 was characterised by a serious deterioration in the administration of justice and respect for human rights. He said the situation was compounded by the deepening political and economic crisis.
“The year 2003 saw a continuation, and indeed an acceleration, of the deterioration of access by the public to justice, the effectiveness of the administration of justice, observance of human rights and public confidence in the effectiveness of mechanisms for the prevention and redress of human rights violations,” Moyo said.
“Among the major obstacles to access to justice experienced during the year were attempts to destroy the independence of the legal profession and the ability of lawyers to discharge their functions without fear and to access their clients.”
Moyo observed the judiciary was plagued by numerous problems that need to be addressed a matter of urgency.
“Unacceptable levels of administrative inefficiency, delays in handing down judgements by the judiciary, a progressive weakening of a culture of judicial activism in favour of human rights, inadequacy of resources to support an efficient and effective administration of justice and a growing culture of impunity are other serious obstacles to public access to justice were experienced during the year,” he said.
To make matters worse, Moyo pointed out, physical attacks against lawyers heightened during the course of last year, fuelling lawlessness.
More than 10 lawyers were either assaulted or denied access to their clients last year.
“Attempts to intimidate lawyers who display fearlessness and independence in the discharge of their duties are inimical and indeed repugnant to the interests of the administration of justice,” Moyo said. “Such attacks ought to be viewed as a major obstacle to public access to justice.”
Moyo warned that a toadying judiciary was dangerous for democracy.
“An independent and fearless legal profession is an essential prerequisite to the enjoyment of human rights and to transformation to a democratic, free and prosperous society,” he said. “A sycophantic legal profession is of no value to the public and the administration of justice.”
Moyo also said there was an “intensification of enforcement of repressive legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act” last year.
“These statutes represent a direct attack on freedoms of assembly, procession and expression,” he said. “The character of this 2002 legislation as a serious obstacle to enjoyment of human rights was manifest during the year.”
Repression reached alarming levels during the course of 2003, Moyo noted.
“A number of people were arrested for participating in assemblies and processions. Some of the assemblies and processions were reported to have been peaceful,” he said.
“The only independent daily newspaper was closed down in what was said to be enforcement of the legislation. The existence of independent newspapers is the primary and principal manifestation of pluralism and democracy.”
Moyo said media tyranny and suppression of constitutional liberties was a serious threat to democracy.
“Freedom of expression and thought are prerequisites for the enjoyment of other rights and freedoms guaranteed by our constitution,” he said.
“The fact that we do not, today, have an independent daily newspaper must, consequently, be viewed as a tragedy for democracy.”