By Robert Tapfumaneyi
TWO judges in 2020 appeared before the Judiciary Services Commission (JSC) which was investigating the question of their removal from office while five magistrates were dismissed on charges of corruption and incompetence.
Officially opening the 2021 legal year, Chief Justice Luke Malaba said a cocktail of measures had been devised to improve the performance of judicial officers.
“A cocktail of measures has been devised to enhance the monitoring of the performance and output of each judicial officer,” the chief justice said.
“Among such measures is the requirement that all heads of courts account to the chief justice in terms of the performance of their courts and staff.
“That includes the performance of judicial officers and the heads of courts apprise the chief justice on the performance of their respective courts at briefings, which are scheduled on a monthly basis.
“These meetings are augmented by monthly statistical reports detailing the performance of each court. The reports record the workload and the performance of each judicial officer in relation to the number of cases received and finalised, judgments reserved and backlog of pending cases.”
Chief Justice Malaba said this was done to monitor the efficiency of each court and judicial officer and to ensure that corrective action is swiftly taken where necessary.
“As the complaints are made directly to the chief justice, in terms of the law, the procedure adopted in processing them is one provided for by the law.
“If the complaint relates to judicial conduct and is an expression of dissatisfaction with the decision of a judicial officer, the complainant is invariably advised of the existence of legal remedies such as appeal and review for the redress of the cause of the disgruntlement.
“In that way, due respect for judicial independence is observed on the basis that the legal remedies provided are a means of ensuring efficiency and effectiveness in the performance of judicial functions.
“Where the complaint does not relate to the decision of a judicial officer in the exercise of judicial power but relates to the conduct of a judicial officer, it is forwarded to the head of the court in which the officer works.
“Where the complaint relates to the conduct of a non-judicial member of staff, it is forwarded to the secretary of the JSC.
“In each case, the officer concerned would be asked to comment on the allegations raised in the complaint.”
“The condition often attached to the letter of referral of the complaint to the head of the court or the secretary, as the case may be, would relate to the time limit within which the officer concerned should submit his or her response to the complaint.”
The chief justice also said that in many instances, the officers accused of dereliction of duty provide candid, comprehensive and satisfactory explanations.
“For example, a judicial officer alleged to have delayed in delivering a judgment will admit failure to act promptly and apologise for his or her conduct whilst undertaking to deliver the judgment on a fixed date,” Malaba said.
“In some cases, the explanation by the officer may reveal the truth of what happened.
“The complainant may not have been aware of the full facts. In such cases, the response by the officer against whom the complaint was made would be forwarded to the complainant, who is asked to comment within a reasonable time.
“In many cases, the complainant accepts the explanation given by the officer concerned and the matter ends there.
“Where the conduct a judge is alleged to have committed is not of a serious nature but is prohibited by the code of ethics, the chief justice has authority to set up a disciplinary committee to investigate the allegations made against the judicial officer concerned.”