Judges work under tough conditions’

Ray Matikinye

LAWYERS say judges in Zimbabwe are working under very difficult conditions and trying hard to remain very objective in their judgements.



vetica, sans-serif”>The comments follow remarks by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku last week that the judiciary had not been compromised by simply being mainly black or by receiving land from government.


Justice Chidyausiku praised the role of the judiciary saying judges were not compromised in their rulings by reason of having received properties under the controversial land distribution programme.


“The judges are severely compromised although a few of them try to maintain an appearance of independence under very difficult circumstances,” said award-winning human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa.


Mtetwa said there was no question that the superior courts were more compromised than the lower courts.


Chidyausiku blamed lawyers representing dispossessed white commercial farmers for performing poorly in their arguments.


“It is just a blame game,” said Mtetwa. “If a client has a good case on human rights there is no reason why those rights cannot be upheld on the basis of bad representation,” Mtetwa said.


She said there had been rare cases when presiding judges had told lawyers or their clients that although they had good cases, their lawyers were failing to make the best of their case.


Mtetwa said cases that had gone through the Constitutional Court had shown that there was political bias even when arguments had been presented by internationally recognised lawyers.


Human rights lawyer, Nokuthula Moyo of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, also expressed reservations about the Chief Justice’s comments.

She said the issue was never about the colour of skin but about being beholden to a benefactor.


“That has been the biggest complaint among lawyers. In principle judges who have received farms from government should not have presided over such matters because they were interested parties. This tended to compromise independent and fair judgement,” Moyo said.


Several white judges were forced to quit the Bench over the past five years of government’s accelerated land reform as they were accused of bias in favour of white commercial farmers.


“The integrity of a judge is not determined by the colour of their skin but by the content and character of the judge,” Chidyausiku said in a speech during a passout parade for ZRP officers.


Mtetwa and Moyo agree. But said the accusations levelled against the judiciary had never been on the basis of colour.


According to the IBA, the intimidation and undermining of the judiciary by the government, including making of remarks demeaning of judges, had the effect of cowing judges.


Government officials made intimidating remarks against the judiciary and there were threats of violence by Zanu PF supporters that forced a good number of judges to leave, the report says.


This had contributed to the disrespect for the law and loss of confidence in the justice system.


Failure to make determinations in certain cases appeared to the public to be an avoidance of unpopular decisions, it said.


Chidyausiku said he had always trashed such reports which he alleged were written by locals in connivance with international representatives smuggled into the courts by night.

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