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Magistracy now under Judicial Commission

MAGISTRATES in the country now fall under the Judicial Service Commission, a move set to enhance the independence of the magistracy and ring-fence it from political influence.
The magistracy has been removed from the Public Service Commission (PSC) as th

e Judicial Services Act, which seeks to put all judicial operations under one structure, becomes operational from June 18.
The Judicial Services Act gazetted in 2007 seeks to move the magistracy from the PSC and bring it under the control of the JSC, headed by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku.

According to a circular dated May 7 from Acting Chief Magistrate Hlekani Mwayera, the Judicial Service Act chapter 7:18 will be operational on June 18.

“Upon its operationalisation, all officers/workers within the magistrates’ department will move to the Judicial Service Commission,” reads the circular.
“We urge you to bring to the attention of all officers and workers within your Region or Province that any officer who does not wish to move to the Judicial Service Commission should indicate in writing their intention to remain with the Public Service Commission.”

The implementation of the JSA was long overdue and, officially opening the 2010 legal year, the then Judge President Justice Rita Makarau in her prepared speech expressed concern over the delays in the operation of the act as she could not give details of what happened in the magistrates’ courts during the course of 2009 where 90% of the judicial work is carried out.

She said: “In this regard I feel that my address to you this morning is at best incomplete and at worst fraudulent as it misrepresents what is obtaining within the judiciary. Despite the promulgation of the Judicial Services Act in 2006, we are still not a unitary judiciary. The magistracy still falls under the direct control of the executive and is not accountable to the Chief Justice. The specialised courts, dealing with administrative 1aw issues and labour matters, are neither divisions of the High Court nor accountable to the Chief Justice.”

She said the impact of this fragmentation of the judiciary is that the bulk of the judiciary is denied a voice at the official opening of the legal year and that the magistracy concerns and aspirations as judicial officers cannot find their way into the public domain.

Constitutional expert Lovemore Madhuku said the move of the magistrates to the JSC in theory was a “good step” on the assumption that the political framework has changed.

“These are good structures that however do not make any difference under the current government. Under the current framework the Judicial Service Commission is not independent. It is just window-dressing. It won’t be surprising that the Judicial Service Commission would be the same thing as the Public Service Commission.”

The move could see the magistracy getting better working conditions and an improvement in their remuneration.
A magistrate who spoke on condition of anonymity welcomed the move and hoped that it would stop ministers and government officials from interfering with certain court cases as they took the magistrates as civil servants.

Wongai Zhangazha

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