CHIEF Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku is intensifying his crackdown on senior judges he believes are incompetent because of their failure to deliver judgments and reviews on time, among other shortcomings, warning them they could be punished or simply replaced if they do not improve.
In a confidential memorandum dated February 5, a copy of which was seen by Zimbabwe Independent, Chidyausiku refused to back down on his remarks during the official opening of the 2015 legal year on January 12 where he commended five High Court judges in Justices Nicholas Mathonsi, Nokuthula Moyo, Priscilla Chigumba, Loice Matanda-Moyo and Charles Hungwe for performing impressively while lambasting their underperforming colleagues.
Despite a fierce backlash by High Court judges in a memo to him on January 28, Chidyausiku seems unfazed. His strong rebuke of non-performers provoked a vicious backlash on January 28 from 21 High Court judges who claimed they had felt “humiliated, dejected and despondent” by his “inaccurate and damaging analyses, impressions and conclusions”.
On February 4, the memo written by the 21 aggrieved judges was leaked to the media, forcing Chidyausiku to react, first through Judicial Service Commission (JSC) secretary Rita Makarau, threatening stern measures against underperformers unless they improved.
Then on February 5, Chidyausiku personally responded to the January 28 memo attacking the judges, some of whom he said still has reviews dating as far back as 2008. He noted for the first time in history the High Court has a 700-case backlog in unopposed divorces, while also acknowledging some judges reacted positively to his remarks as shown by the delivery of 105 judgments since January 12.
“I acknowledge receipt of your memo dated 28 January 2015 which is also now in the public domain,” Chidyausiku wrote. “In my view, the contents of the memo are misplaced. I stand by everything I said in my speech at the official opening of the legal year. I suggest that we agree to disagree.”
Chidyausiku said he had not named and shamed underperforming judges “out of respect for the office they hold but (he) may be compelled to do so, to put this matter into perspective”.
He insisted the performance of some judges was a “cause for concern”.
“Some of them still have reviews from as far back as 2008 that by end of 2014 they had not attended to,” he said. “Some have the highest number of reserved judgments and have the highest number of partly heard matters that are yet to be completed. For the first time in history, the High Court has a 700-case backlog in unopposed divorces.
If you all want me to excuse this, then I beg to differ.”
During the opening, Chidyausiku blasted some judges who had handed down as few as two or three judgments last year when compared to Mathonsi, the top performing judge, who produced 72 judgments despite operating in the same environment.
Judges were, however, infuriated by the public rebuke and wrote a scathing memo, through Judge President Justice George Chiweshe, to the Chief Justice accusing him of being out of touch with modern trends in the justice delivery system.
They challenged Chidyausiku to correct the wrong impression he created, while asking him to come up with an objective, fair and just appraisal system for all judges.
Chidyausiku said although he dwelt on judgments, he had adequate information regarding pre-trial conferences, chamber applications, criminal trials and reviews handled by each judge.
While he admitted the issue of conditions of service was crucial, Chidyausiku said he has done so much to improve the lot of judges than any of his predecessors and would thus neither speak about the issue incessantly nor tolerate crybabies.
He said there are many candidates out there to replace judges who cannot bear the heat and would like to leave the kitchen.