ZIMBABWE has 45 vacancies for magistrates putting tremendous pressure on the available staff, with 5 000 criminal and 3 000 civil cases pending nationally as of February 15, Chief Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe has said.
The shortage of magistrates, resulting from a freeze in general recruitment by the Judicial Service Commission due to budgetary constraints, has seen magistrates working longer hours compromising the quality of their judgments.
“We have an establishment of 250 magistrates in the country, inclusive of the chief magistrate, the deputy chief magistrate and 25 regional magistrates. At the moment we have 205 magistrates in post which means a shortage of 45 magistrates,” said Guvamombe.
Consequently, most of the magistrates clock well over 100 hours of work per month against a recommended 60 hours.
“The magistrates would need time to research and write judgments; this puts more hours on their work forcing them to take some of their work home. Given a full complement of magistrates we will do better,” he said. “The Judicial Service Commission is seized with the matter and I am sure steps are being taken to address that.”
He, however, said all criminal and civil cases are current. “We have no backlog in our courts after clearing all long standing cases.
On average we receive about 7 000 criminal cases every month. Between January 16 and February 15, we received 7 832 cases.”
Guvamombe said he was pleased that at the end of each month they have less cases than what we would have received, something which he said had not been achieved in the criminal and civil justice systems for a long time.
It is anticipated that the construction of more court houses would greatly improve access to justice. The JSC has constructed new court houses in Mutoko, Murehwa, Guruve, Tsholotsho and Norton, while at the end of the month they expect to complete work on Esigodini courts.
“These are pre-fabricated court houses. We will be starting in Mutasa and Chiredzi soon. The advantage of these pre-fabricated court houses is that they improve access to justice in a decent environment,” he said.
The JSC has already started planning for construction of the next 11 court houses at Goromonzi, Nkayi, Murambinda, Victoria Falls, Beitbridge, Chivi, Nyanga, Binga, Bikita, Zvishavane and Kwekwe, due to be completed by June this year.
Courts will be complemented by the installation of a computerised case-tracking system.
“We have started the pilot project at Bulawayo magistrate’s court. The benefit of the case-tracking system is that records of proceedings will be efficiently and effectively managed.
“Because of manual filing we sometimes lose records or take time to locate them, thus delaying court proceedings.” — Staff Writer.