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Zimbabwe Judge's sudden resignation opens a Pandora's box

by Staff reporter
25 Nov 2023 at 07:46hrs | Views
FORMER High Court judge Webster Chinamora allegedly left a huge backlog of reserved judgments, with Delta Corporation continuing to haunt him despite his recent resignation, the Zimbabwe Independent revealed.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa was forced to appoint a tribunal after complaints from litigants, including Delta, whose cases were allegedly mishandled by the judge.

Among the allegations against Chinamora were that he handed down a judgment in a matter he never heard.

In February this year, Chinamora and former Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Martin Makonese were given 10 days to show cause why tribunals should not be constituted to investigate alleged acts of misconduct.

Makonese stepped down but Chinamora remained on the bench, handling High Court cases. This was despite recommendations by a judges' panel in February.

Human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa also wrote to Mnangagwa and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) a fortnight ago to rein in Chinamora.

But the former judge tendered his resignation six days ago after the President appointed a tribunal last week on Tuesday. However, sources this week indicated that Chief Justice Luke Malaba ordered Chinamora to clear cases he was handling, among them, reserved judgements.

The Independent is reliably informed that lawyers dealing with the Delta complaint advised by Advocate Thabani Mpofu were planning to write to the JSC and the Supreme Court registering displeasure with the way the Chinamora case was being managed.

Mpofu was representing Delta Beverages and Schweppes Zimbabwe in a legal dispute with South African company, Blakey Plastics.

Chinamora, who heard the case, ruled in favour of Blakey Plastics, which was resisting the cancellation of its contract to supply Delta with plastic materials over five years ago.

Sources told the Independent that the lawyers representing Delta were questioning why the Supreme Court heard an appeal over a contested judgment. Rather, the lawyers want to push for a fresh hearing of the case at the High Court.

A panel set up by the JSC to review the complaint made up of judges Anne-Marie Gowora, Alfas Chitakunye, and Custom Kachambwa concluded that Chinamora had a case to answer.

Delta lawyers, according to sources, also claim that lack of clarity on the matter has seen Blakey Plastics using the same High Court judgment against the beverage company despite the registered complaint that led to the setting up of a tribunal.

"They are also worried that Chinamora's resignation was just a way of avoiding going through a disciplinary process but the confusion triggered by the judgment remains," the source said.

This is not the first time that Chinamora has been embroiled in a legal controversy with the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ).

LSZ spokesperson Richard Chidza said the society would issue a comprehensive response on the issues regarding Chinamhora.

"Unfortunately, Justice Chinamora's file is in the executive secretary's office; hence, we do not have details at hand. The executive secretary of the Law Society of Zimbabwe is away on business and we will only be able to comment on his return to the office next Tuesday," he said.

meanwhile, lawyers spoken to with cases before Chinamora have raised concerns after reports that Justice Malaba had allegedly given the judge an instruction to clear his backlog.

malaba last year accused judges of sitting on cases causing a huge backlog and frustrating justice delivery.

"Chinamora was told by the Chief Justice to clear cases in his office before leaving the bench, especially reserved judgments. This issue is topical in the judiciary corridors," another source alleged.

The JSC did not respond to questions sent by the Independent. Chinamora did not also respond to questions, while Mpofu's mobile phone was not reachable.

Legal experts, who spoke to the Independent this week said while Chief Justice Malaba was not at fault in Chinamora's case, the resignation and the pending matters could have been handled better.

Constitutional law expert and University of Zimbabwe lecturer Lovemore Madhuku said the matter was not about Chinamora but the High Court as an institution.

"It could be a matter of the judge having resigned without communicating his judgments in cases he presided (over). The fact that he had reserved judgments does not wash away the court processes," Madhuku said. "He was acting as the High Court and not Chinamora and we must separate the two. What he cannot do now is to hear any new cases but communicate his judgments in the reserved cases."

Another legal expert Sharon Hofisi said the constitution, Judicial Services Act, and Code of ethics play crucial roles in addressing the resignation of judges and handling unresolved cases.

"The constitution protects judges but remains silent on resignation procedures. The Judicial Services Act outlines a code of conduct and ethics, indicating that a judge under investigation may be requested to take leave of absence at the Chief Justice's discretion," Hofisi said. "Concerning resignation, the ambiguity of immediate effect versus time-lapse influences whether a judge can be compelled to clear cases.

"Immediate resignation may exempt a judge from such obligations, while a delayed resignation could allow for the resolution of certain cases. The absence of a clear impeachment process in Zimbabwe's legal framework raises questions about the accountability of judges. Unlike impeachment, which involves the legislature, the constitution and judicial codes avoid this route, potentially impacting transparency and accountability."

Hofisi said in the absence of a subpoena detailing the cases in question, the process becomes further complicated, raising concerns about clarity and fairness in addressing unresolved cases.

Chinamora was expected to appear before retired Supreme Court judge Justice Ahmed Moosa Ebrahim and seasoned lawyers Gift Manyatera and Clara Phiri, according to a Government Gazette published last week.

From September 2014 until his appointment to the bench on August 20, 2019, Justice Chinamora was an advocate.

Source - The Independent