GOVERNMENT has instructed the Attorney-General’s office and the Chief Magistrate’s office to stop handling all pending land issues following the gazetting of the Constitutional Amendment
(No 17) Act.
Secretary for Justice, David Mangota, issued the directive on September 28.
But legal experts have said the directive is an example of government interfering with the judiciary.
The instruction was given to Attorney-General Sobusa Gula-Ndebele, Chief Magistrate Herbert Mandeya and the senior administrative court president Andrew Mutema.
In the circular issued to the trio, Mangota expressed concern why the courts were still entertaining the land issues.
“The Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No 17) took away the courts’ jurisdiction of hearing matters which are related to the acquisition of land by the state,” Mangota said.
“The courts retained jurisdiction to hear and determine upon matters which pertain to compensation for improvements only,” he said.
“Reports which reach my office seem to suggest that some of your officers are still entertaining cases on matters which relate to the acquisition of land. I should, in my view of the foregoing, be grateful if you would kindly issue minutes clarifying the position on this matter to your subordinates.”
The amendment was passed in September. But it has yet to be legally tested.
Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa said he was not aware of the directive since Mangota had issued it.
“Talk to Mangota. He is the one who wrote that circular so he knows everything.”
Mangota could not be reached for comment.
The circular does not clarify how the issue of legal costs will be addressed.
Law Society of Zimbabwe president Joseph James differed with Mangota’s circular on matters relating to land, saying they could still be entertained by the courts.
“I do not share his position,” James said.
“Matters of jurisdiction are to be decided by the courts, and not outside the courts. Just as it is right for one of the litigants to raise the issue of lack of jurisdiction as a defence, it is equally the right of one of the parties to advance his case, and explain why the recent amendment cannot bar a court from hearing his case.”
James said a party might argue that the land in question is not agricultural land.
“In any event, the constitutionality of Amendment No 17 is still to be tested,” he said.
“I assume that judicial officers will exercise their judicial discretion and decide upon the issue of jurisdiction on a case by case basis.”