A COMMONWEALTH Lawyers Association (CLA) mission has declared that the arrest and detention of prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa March last year was in breach the rule of law.
The CLA’s final report on the observation mission which monitored Mtetwa’s trial was released Tuesday.
The mission was conducted between March and November last year by a trial observer team comprising staff at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA (SERI).
Mtetwa was arrested in Harare in March last year for “obstructing the course of justice” while assisting her client, a senior legal adviser to then Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
She was later acquitted in November at the end of the State’s case when the presiding magistrate established she had no case to answer.
The CLA report expressed grave concern that Mtetwa’s arrest, detention and trial were allowed to happen in the first place.
“It was evident that nothing Mtetwa was alleged to have done was capable of obstructing justice, instead, her arrest and subsequent detention were clearly an attempt to harass and intimidate her; to punish her for asserting her client’s rights,” reads the report.
The CLA also said Mtetwa’s trial was conducted in a less than satisfactory manner. It was heard piecemeal, one or two days at a time, over several months.
“It is generally in the interests of justice that, once evidence commences, a trial continues uninterrupted until a verdict is reached,” the group said.
“While we are satisfied that the correct result was ultimately reached in this case, Mtetwa’s trial exposes critical weaknesses in the capacity of the Zimbabwean police and the Magistrate to uphold and defend the rule of law and these weaknesses require the most anxious consideration by the Zimbabwean authorities.”