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Judicial Independence Under Threat: ZLHR

A top legal body says a directive handed down by the Chief Justice will undermine judicial independence of judges, as their judgments or order are now required to be seen before they are handed down by the Head of the Court.

The initial directive, initially handed down on 16 July 202, later modified the next day, demanded that the judgments should be seen and approved. Lawyers say even the modification that they should now be seen makes no difference and remains inimical to judicial independence.

In a strongly worded response to this directive the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), a nonprofit pro human rights organization, expressed outrage saying this was an unprecedented assault on the principle of independence of the judiciary.

ZLHR said this directive would violate several legal instruments, human rights charters and the Constitution of Zimbabwe which expressly protects the independence of the judiciary to discharge its duties.

Notable human right charters that this directive violates include the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, The International Convention on Civic and Political Rights, the United Nation Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, said ZLHR.

“The provisions of the Directive is an unprecedented is an assault on the principles of the independence of the judiciary.

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“The principle of judicial independence is two pronged and encapsulates both institutional and individual independence. In this case, the individual independence of judges is under threat.

“Individual independence of Judges mean that they have a duty and are enabled to decide cases before them according to the law, free from fear or personal criticisms or reprisal of any kind, even in difficult or sensitive cases.

“The administration of justice by transparent, accountable, competent and independent judicial officers is something that the ZLHR and Zimbabweans at large value immensely. It is the hallmarks of a constitutional democracy,” said ZLHR.

There has been concerted efforts by the new dispensation to consolidate powers through legal instruments and critics of the regime say this has been betrayed by proposed constitutional amendments which will erode judicial independence.

Some of proposed amendments to the 2013 Constitution include abolishing the Presidential running mate, executive appointment of Judges of Superior Courts instead of public interviews- where the President would be able to promote judges without interviews.

ZLHR concurs, ‘…constitutional amendments have been introduced which if enacted will erode provisions on the independence of the judiciary,’ and ‘regards the matter as a grave concern’.

To safeguard the judicial independence ZLHR says the Chief Justice must immediately withdraw the directive, urging government to play its part by reaffirming and honoring its commitment to international treaties and conventions that it is signatory to.

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ZLHR also urged the Judicial Service Commission to identify gaps in the system and for government to provide adequate resources to judges including library resources and other necessary equipment to strengthen delivery of their sacrosanct duties.

“All judges must continue to be appointed on merit only, in a transparent manner. The judicial service implements administrative reforms such as recruitment of research clerks that assist judges with relevant support.

“The government reaffirms and honors its commitment to treaty obligations under the United Nation and African Union human rights instruments guaranteeing independence of judges.

“The Chief Justice completely withdraws the provision in the Directive,” said ZLHR.

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