Biti outlines shocking state of Zim judiciary: courtrooms have no chairs, no desks – people literary sit on drums

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By UK correspondent

  • Courts infrastructure a disaster around the country, Harare court used to be Rhodesian horse stables
  • Judges, magistrates exposed to corruption with salaries of ZW$200,000 and ZW$100,000
  • Most courts do not have libraries; magistrates can’t check case authorities cited by lawyers

“The infrastructure is a disaster Mr. Speaker. There are some courts where if you go and sit on a chair with your suit, you will come out naked because a nail will lacerate your trousers, unobva wakashama, vanhu voona colour yenguwo yawakapfeka mukati.  

“I have been to courts where the court does not even have a copy of the Zimbabwean Constitution, where a magistrate is using notes of criminal procedure and civil procedure that she or he was taught by Lovemore Madhuku at the University of Zimbabwe many years ago; it is happening.”

This was opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) legislator Tendai Biti, also one of the country’s leading lawyers, speaking in Parliament Thursday as the House debated the Judicial Laws Amendment Bill.

Biti said the bill does not address the many problems the judiciary is facing

He painted a chaotic operational picture of the justice delivery system in the country featuring dire resource poverty and poor remuneration for judges which leaves them vulnerable to corruption.

Harare magistrate’s courts

Magistrates around the country were forced to operate without libraries, leaving them open to being manipulated by lawyers citing non-existent case law.

“The other issue is of libraries, you have magistrates and judges that are operating without any library. You have magistrates and judges that do not have access to one single version of the Zimbabwe Law Report,” said Biti.

“Mr. Speaker, the problem you now have now is that lawyers can actually mislead, will go to court to magistrates who do not have libraries with non-existent case authorities.

“At most, you will find a prosecutor or a magistrate operating with a scruffy copy of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, a scruffy copy of the Criminal Codification and Reform Act and a scruffy copy of the Constitution which has been photocopied for so many times and in the margin some key cases are written State versus Kasukuwere, State versus Jabangwe or State versus Chivayo. It is not adequate.”

“The poor remuneration of judicial officers is also a huge concern, the CCC legislator said.

Judges are being paid RTGs 200,000 and magistrate are earning less than RTGs 100,000 per month,” he said.

“So, naturally, corruption will take root. State capture will take root because justice cannot be administered if the judicial officer cannot reproduce himself or herself, and any practicing lawyer or prosecutor will tell you that judicial corruption is now rampant in Zimbabwe because of the conditions of service.

“Some of the magistrates do not even have vehicles to bring to work but look at the state of our roads and congestion. That magistrate is going to be given a Honda Fit by an accused person, you cannot complain Mr. Speaker.

“So, we need to adequately reward judicial officers starting with the Chief Justice going to the judges of the Constitutional Court and so on.

“Many of those judges would have forgone a profitable legal career in the private sector to go to a situation where he/she cannot even afford to pay school fees for their children.”

The government had tried to address the remuneration challenge by giving judges farms but this was not making any difference because of the unrewarding nature of the farming business in Zimbabwe.

“Many of them end up being farmers but you know as a farmer that if you want to make anyone poor, you give them a farm because farming is expensive,” said Biti.

“In Zimbabwe, because our farmers do not have title deeds, the land is not collateralised and they have to wait for Command Agriculture which comes in unequal circumstances.

“So, we are exposing judicial officers to corruption. The Judicial Services Amendment Bill needs to address that. One of the things we could do is allow them to retain the money that is paid to them in the form of fines and so forth.”