GOVERNMENT is yet to adopt a code of conduct for the judiciary almost two years after making assurances to visiting experts from the African Commission on Human and People’s R
ights (ACHPR) that a standard code was on the way.
Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku told visiting ACHPR commissioners that he was conscious of the need to rebuild public trust. In this respect he advised that a code of conduct for the judiciary was under consideration.
The commissioners had noted that the judiciary was politically compromised.
“The mission was struck by the observation that the judiciary had been tainted and…bears the distrust that comes from the prevailing political conditions,” their report said. “It appears that their conditions of service do not protect them from political pressure; appointments to the bench could be done in such a way that they could be insulated from the stigma of political patronage,” the report said.
Chidyausiku this week declined to shed light on when the code of conduct would come into force. “I do not talk to the press,” Chidyausiku said. “You should communicate through the ministry or through the registrar’s office.”
High Court registrar Charles Nyatanga said the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Justice was drafting the code. But he professed ignorance as to when the process would be completed.
Constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku said the Code of Judicial Conduct was intended to set ethical standards for judges.
“The Code of Judicial Conduct is not intended as an exhaustive guide for the conduct of judges,” Madhuku said. “They should also be governed in their judicial and personal conduct by general ethical standards. The code is intended, however, to state basic standards which should govern the conduct of all judges and to provide guidelines to assist judges in establishing and maintaining high standards of judicial and personal conduct.”
The code of judicial conduct usually comprises five broad statements called canons. The first canon is that a judge shall uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary. A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all the judge’s activities. The third canon is that a judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially and diligently. A judge shall so conduct the judge’s extra-judicial activities as to minimise the risk of conflict with judicial obligations.
The last canon is that a judge refrain from political activity inappropriate to the judge’s judicial office.
Madhuku said the country had seen the promulgation of bad laws that trample on citizens’ rights, the undermining of the judiciary characterised by the loading of the bench with ruling-party cronies, and the virtual collapse of the rule of law.
“All these have seriously compromised the independence of the judiciary and undermined the protection of citizens by law,” said Madhuku.
“We have seen judges getting farms as bribes from government. The code of judicial conduct if adopted would put a stop to all this.”
Madhuku said the independence of the judiciary was the cornerstone of all laws.
“The capacity to investigate violations and prosecute in a fair, effective, and competent manner by relevant judicial, administrative, or legislative authorities is key to the implementation of laws. However, the Zimbabwe government has failed to provide for this,” said Madhuku.