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‘Public criticism necessary in judiciary accountability’

BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA

LAW experts have urged citizens to take a more active role and participate in legal issues to ensure that the judiciary system abides by the constitution for effective justice delivery.

Law lecturers Lovemore Madhuku and Alex Magaisa said the very citizens who make the constitution should guard against abuse of the supreme law through public criticism and debate to ensure accountability in constitutionalism.

They said this on Thursday evening as guest speakers during a Zoom meeting hosted by Crisis Zimbabwe Coalition, under the topic: “Progression or regression: A  new Constitution and the state of the judiciary in Zimbabwe.”

Magaisa, a law lecturer at University of Kent in the United Kingdom, said the public should be at the forefront in raising concerns on judicial injustices but Zimbabwean citizens were reluctant to participate on issues affecting them, leaving the responsibility to lawyers and politicians.

“The civil society should take an active role and be critical on issues which are considered to be contrary to the constitutional dictates,” Magaisa said.

“People have to understand that they have the power over the Constitution and they have to be cognisant of the current affairs on issues to do with the law.

“There is need to professionalise the civil society  so that they are critical on important issues such as judgements at courts,  amendments proposed by the government and other issues, to promote respect of constitutional rights.”

Madhuku, a politician and law lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, concurred with Magaisa saying that public participation on judiciary processes was important   to enhance accountability even if it meant people had to go on the streets to fight for constitutionalism.

“The public can seek judiciary accountability by taking the legal route, which involves engaging lawyers and going through the ordinary litigation processes,” said Madhuku.

“But the other way of seeking accountability is through public consciousness and public involvement in raising issues of concerns. There are situations where magistrates make their decisions, influenced by public criticism.

“It could be the scenario on Fadzayi (Mahere)  who recently got bail at the magistrates’ court level while the other two (Hopewell Chin’ono and Job Sikhala) who  are facing  similar charges  before different magistrates were  denied bail and are in prison.”

The National Constitutional Assembly party leader said the judiciary had failed to progress the current constitutional framework on promoting fundamental rights.

“The magistrates’ courts have not given   respect to the Constitution in respect of one of the most celebrated rights — the righty to liberty.  We have all noticed that in the past, when arrested many have applied for bail at the magistrates’ courts but did not get it, save for a few selected cases. The magistrates have undermined the concept of compelling reasons on bail awarding. They have allowed even flimsy reasons to deny bail to applicants.”

He also said the Constitutional Court had deliberately avoided deciding on critical constitutional matters and focused on “soft” issues which had nothing to do with the current constitution.

Both lecturers agreed that the arrests of MDC-Alliance party senior members Mahere and Sikhala and journalist Chin’ono were unconstitutional as the law under which they were being charged was outlawed. The trio’s arrests sparked criticisms from the civil society, human rights activists and foreign embassies who described the incarcerations as arbitrary.

Magaisa called for more education and training of judicial officers so that they are equipped with the knowledge on how to apply constitutional principles towards an effective justice delivery.

Paul Mangwana, a lawyer and Zanu PF member who was also nominated as the  guest speaker on the meeting, failed to attend.

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