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Zimbabwe judiciary independence questioned

by Staff reporter
30 Dec 2018 at 17:38hrs | Views
When MDC deputy national chairperson Tendai Biti was arrested on August 10 as he fled into neighbouring Zambia for announcing false presidential results, he was brought to the Harare Magistrates' Court where he was granted bail.

The State did not oppose bail despite the fact Biti was arrested on the other side of the border.

The decision not to oppose bail shocked many who were used to seeing the State being harsh to opposition leaders.

It, however, didn't take long before Zimbabweans knew what had happened.

This was after President Emmerson Mnangagwa made a stunning revelation on his Twitter account that he intervened to ensure that the MDC principal was released.

"...Biti was released earlier today following my intervention. At such a crucial time in the history of the New Zimbabwe, nothing is more important than unity, peace and dialogue," he said.

Instead of being appreciated for his intervention, Mnangagwa was accused of interfering with court processes with some questioning the independence of the Judiciary.

The legal fraternity said Mnangagwa's utterances exposed how the Executive interferes with court processes which, ideally, ought to operate independently.

Over three months down the line, no one would have predicted how the trial of the Harare East legislator would further expose the rot within the judiciary system.

Biti's trial has revealed details of behind the scenes manoeuvres that seem to compromise the independence of the system.

His lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa dropped a bombshell in court when she read out a message denigrating presiding magistrate Gloria Takundwa for allowing journalists to livestream court proceedings.

Reza meant to send the message to Thabani Mpofu who leads Mnangagwa's Special Prosecuting Unit but erroneously sent it to Advocate Thabani Mpofu.

It read: "Cde Mpofu. It's Reza, how are you. Another strange ruling by the magistrate trying Tendai Biti.

"They applied for livestreaming of the case, with cameras and journalists in court and proceedings beamed all over the world.

"She has just agreed to that without authority of her boss the Chief Justice. She is either very brave or very stupid or both, kkkkkk."

Constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku told the Daily News on Sunday that Reza's utterances do not point to the entire system being captured.

"It's not easy to capture the judicial system in its entirety. You can capture certain members of the judiciary but you cannot capture the entire system," Madhuku said.

He added: "There is always an element of some members who are not independent minded even where they have not been directed by anyone."

In the case of Reza, Madhuku said he was within his rights to express his opinion over judgments handed down in court.

"Those were his views and there is nothing wrong with him sharing those views because he is not a magistrate but a member of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and they are allowed by law to comment on what they think about judgments that have been given by the courts."

"He was expressing his opinion that the magistrate has erred to another prosecutor from what we heard."

Biti's case is, however, not the only one that has revealed possible capture and interference in the judiciary system.

Recently, Advocate Sylvetster Hashiti expressed his concern over interference.

Hashiti represents former Mines minister Walter Chidakwa where he is jointly charged with ex-permanent secretary in the ministry Francis Gudyanga where it is alleged they misappropriated
$29 000 in board sitting allowances.

Hashiti cited the case of businessman and socialite Genius Kadungure, where he said a magistrate received instructions not to grant the accused bail in a case where he is accused of tax evasion.

He also alluded to the trial of Biti, where the presiding magistrate sought to set aside her own order.

Hashiti said: "Using the two cases, it clear that the magistrates had been given instructions to deny the accused persons fair hearings.

"This does not need to be proven. It is a reasonably clear perception," he added.

Amidst the interference accusations, it remains a mystery as to whether individuals who were arrested during Mnangagwa's anti-corruption crusade will get free and fair hearings.

Source - dailynews