Tuesday, 9 February 2021

LAWYERS BLAST MALABA : YOU ARE WRONG

CHIEF Justice Luke Malaba has been blasted by legal practitioners from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) over a directive that he issued recently, which gave judges powers to decide on court matters without hearing the litigants, saying his decision was unconstitutional.

In a recent practice directive in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chief Justice Malaba allowed judges to decide on court matters without hearing the litigants’ side, a move which ZLHR executive director, Roslyn Hanzi says was meant to ensure that the judges continued to work without getting into contact with lawyers and other court officials.

“A practice directive was issued by the Chief Justice, saying that you can just file your papers and then a judge can decide on the matter. That obviously violates the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the international rights instruments which say that you have a right to be heard,” Hanzi told NewsDay in an interview.

“There are small steps that can be taken by the Judiciary, like coming up with a virtual platform for hearings so that at least the litigants are satisfied, and they present their cases — whether they are going to be doing so from different parts of the country, they will do so virtually in a safe environment. We are very cognisant that COVID-19 is real,” she said.

Hanzi said while the ZLHR was well aware of the COVID-19 dangers, and that many people in the country were succumbing to the respiratory pandemic, the courts could have created virtual platforms to allow people to be heard by the judges.

Several other political analysts have expressed concern over issues of lack of judicial independence in the country.

Opposition political leaders have also claimed that the rulings during the COVID-19 pandemic were being made as a political weapon to silence critics.

Hanzi said it was because of challenges such as lack of judicial independence, which had forced lawyers to demonstrate against alleged abuse of the bench, adding that there was need for reforms in the country’s Judiciary.

“We want to see the reforms that guarantee and safeguard the Judiciary independence of individual judicial officers, not just institutions like the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the magistrates court, and the High Court, so that they are free from influence from any source internally and externally,” she said.

The ZLHR has also called for capacity building of the Judiciary to ensure it is in the line with changing trends.

“We need continuous education of the judges. If you were following the interviews that were done for the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court judges, you would have noticed that some of the judges were saying that they cannot use computers. They were probably born before these technological advances,” Hanzi said. Newsday

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