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10 January 2012
2012 LEGAL YEAR - A TEST FOR ZIMBABWE'S JUDICIARY AND LEGAL PROFESSION
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) takes note of the speech delivered by the Deputy Chief Justice, the Honourable Mr. Justice Luke Malaba, at the opening of the 2012 Legal Year in Harare on Monday 9 January 2012.
ZLHR welcomes recent positive developments which will hopefully improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the judiciary, including the adoption by the Judicial Service Commission of its 5-year strategic plan, and the adoption of a Code of Ethics for the judiciary in Zimbabwe on 2 December 2011.
We trust that these two critical documents will be made public as soon as possible - particularly the Code of Ethics - in order to facilitate greater transparency and accountability of the judiciary and increase public confidence in the justice delivery system by providing clear mechanisms and channels for scrutiny of judicial conduct.
ZLHR particularly notes the positive work rate prevailing in the High Court in Bulawayo. However the statistics provided in relation to disposal rates of cases in other courts - particularly in the High Court in Harare - must be as serious a cause for concern to all legal practitioners, as they are to the Honourable Deputy Chief Justice himself.
ZLHR believes that there is need for greater scrutiny of, and reflection on, the causes of the backlogs and low disposal rates of cases. There is urgent need for a multi-stakeholder approach to address the current challenges facing various courts around the country if efforts to improve justice delivery are to be credible. In this regard, we cautiously welcome the idea of committees mooted by the Deputy Chief Justice to meet regularly and discuss and deal with such challenges, although we would wish to see it opened up further to include other stakeholders who can make informed input and recommendations for remedial action.
Without opening meaningful debate and accepting input from the legal profession and law-based organisations whose members are well aware of the challenges and have ideas on how these can be addressed, we cannot hope to improve the administration of justice any time soon.
ZLHR is of the considered view that it is time for the judiciary and the legal profession in Zimbabwe to move with the times in terms of modern techniques of dispute resolution, as well as the use of modern technology in relation to case management. These, amongst other methods, can and should be considered as additional means to address these challenges, as indicated by the Deputy Chief Justice.
In addition, a move towards strengthening the functions and powers of the court Registries will improve administration and free judges to spend more time attending court and considering and finalizing their judgments.
In what is likely to be a watershed year for the country, and in view of the increased rights abuses on the general public, it is critical for the judiciary and the legal profession to ensure that such issues are urgently addressed in order for this arm of government to effectively carry out its mandate of protecting the rights of all Zimbabweans without fear or favour, in a timely manner, with professionalism, transparency and accountability. Only in this way will there be improved public confidence in the justice delivery system and ensure that justice is not only done, but is also seen to be done.