Was the Chief Justice surprised that Judge of the Labour Court Euna Makamure does not know the difference between a court action and an application?
Editor’s Memo with Vincent Kahiya
I am sure he expected a better showing than this by the judge during public interviews to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court bench.
Was the Chief Justice also surprised when one of the interviewees — High Court judge Chinembiri Bhunu admitted that: “The only thing that could have compromised my standing is when we opted to get farms.
“I felt as a citizen I had to get land. The circumstance in which land was made available was not done in a manner that would remove controversy.”
This is the first time a sitting judge has openly admitted that accepting farms under the land reform programme could have compromised the standing of the judiciary. The rude irony of this disclosure by Judge Bhunu is that the senior judges, including those on the interviewing panel, also got farms.
In fact that the judiciary does not see anything wrong in getting farms was made more obvious amid reports last month that the Judge President George Chiweshe had petitioned the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) to facilitate issuance of farms to newly-appointed judges. The JSC obliged.
While Judge Makamure’s apparent inadequacies during the interview were breathtaking to say the least, it was the perception of the bench created during the interviews that is most worrying.
The Chief Justice, who was one of the interviewers, came face to face with the calibre of personnel in the judiciary. Can they be trusted to deliver justice?
Whereas I may not readily know the judges’ other inadequacies or how many more judges at the courts lack critical skills, it is only fair to opine that the judiciary is in serious need of reform, a common refrain for over a decade in this country.
Judge Makamure told the interviewers that she was “appointed at the pleasure of the president and probably he (the president) still wanted me to be at the Labour Court”.
True, but the ultimate stakeholder in the judicial system is of course the litigants and the people who look up to the judiciary for justice and implementation of the law.
The general public wants to be served by a justice system that exhibits efficiency, competency and integrity.
The issue of farms will pop up whenever the courts are asked to rule in disputes around land resettlement. That is questioning the integrity of the courts!
Even in cases in which judges who received farms have decided on land cases correctly under the law, justice is not seen to be done.
How can a judge hear and decide on a land case when the circumstance in which land was made available was not done in a manner that would remove controversy?
The new process of selecting judges as provided for under the new constitution is a valiant effort to restore some semblance of integrity in our judiciary by narrowing the presidential appointments to the bench to candidates shortlisted during interviews.
How far that goes towards restoring public confidence in our judiciary depends on the ability of the bench to regain public confidence by addressing critical issues of competence and efficiency.
The new system alone may not be enough to remedy an apparent problem. The bench requires major reform.
There should be a skills audit of sitting judges. Their efficiency should be measured; especially against the number of cases which have remained unresolved. Those lacking the requisite skills should be retrained.
The open interview system has opened the judiciary to close scrutiny by the people and the press. And the bench must be able to take it on the chin.