THE International Bar Association (IBA) has expressed concern over unnecessary delays in hearing cases and handing down judgements in Zimbabwe’s justice delivery system.
The IBA, an organisation that represents law societies and bar associations around the world, said the delays were caused by human error, absence of urgency in the prosecution of cases, failure to properly co-ordinate witnesses in criminal cases and a host of other reasons.
“This alarming trend has become of grave concern to litigants and the legal profession, particularly as the delays in passing judgement have become endemic in the superior courts such as the High Court and the Supreme Court which also doubles as a Constitutional Court,” the IBA said in its weekly column on Zimbabwe.
“It is no longer unusual for litigants to wait for more than six months for a judgement that does not involve complex issues of law. Indeed, even applications that are heard on an urgent basis can have judgement passed many months afterwards and long after the feared harm has occurred.”
It has also become normal practice, the IBA said, that applications determined in the High Court on an urgent basis receive no urgent attention in the Supreme Court if an appeal is lodged.
The Law Society of Zimbabwe has raised the issue of delays at the highest possible level in the hierarchy of the judiciary. Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku has acknowledged the delays and attributed them to the inexperience on the part of judges.
The IBA said Judge President Paddington Garwe had reportedly directed his judges to deliver judgements within six months of hearing arguments, unless the matter was particularly complex, in which event the parties and his office must be informed.
“There is general scepticism surrounding the reasons given for delays as these have, in the main, been cases that involve the government and in which a delayed result would suit it,” the IBA said.
The organisation noted that the recent revelation by former Administrative Court president Michael Majuru that the Minister of Justice, Patrick Chinamasa, had asked him to delay the Daily News case for at least three months lent credence to assertions of deliberate delays in hearing cases and making rulings.
“A look at the Daily News cases will show that although the High Court and the Administrative Court heard the cases fairly urgently, the appeals in the Supreme Court have moved at a snail’s pace,” said the IBA.
“The constitutional challenge filed in January 2003 still awaits determination. Although argument on the constitutional challenge, which the court had already looked at when it made the startling ‘dirty hands’ judgement was heard in March 2004, judgement is yet to be delivered. The effect of this is that the Daily News remains in limbo and the general belief that this delay will persist until after next year’s general election cannot be discounted as fiction.”
The IBA also cited the contempt of court application against immigration officers who unlawfully deported American journalist Andrew Meldrum. The case was argued in the High Court in August 2003 but no judgement has been delivered.
The IBA said election petitions that were heard mainly in 2001 and 2002 still remain unresolved as not one appeal judgement has been delivered.
“With the looming general elections in the first half of 2004, there can be no question that the entire exercise has been rendered academic as parliament is now in its final session before the next elections,” the IBA said.