The judiciary cries for its own justice

"Grant me Justice, Lord! I have walked without blame." Psalms 26:1

After a generation of sloganeering, the much-awaited Judicial Services Bill was finally passed and assented to by the Acting President Joyce Mujuru, only after the Judge President breathed fire.  Months after the presidential assent, nothing has happened.  And nobody in the offices above seems disturbed.  The judiciary waits, ever hopeful, but the groans are getting louder.

The government claims to be fighting a brain drain, which has badly affected the judiciary.  Every year, new magistrates are sworn-in and more leave the bench, meaning that it operates in the same way as a training college.  The pattern is the same with the Attorney General’s Office.  In less than 12 months, the Province of Bulawayo alone has lost 10 magistrates, four of them sworn-in in October 2006 plus two sworn-in in October 2007.   

The Regional Courts in Bulawayo hold a record.  All the Regional Magistrates, within a year have resigned.  Two Acting Regional Magistrates hold the courts and the work-load is beyond them.  No official appointment of substantive officers seems to be in sight.

Sudden departures and continuous new appointments have created instability on the bench as members are transferred now and then without notice or consent in an attempt to fill in the gaps.  Partly-heard matters have flooded the system and an accused person’s hope of getting justice is a pipe dream.  They wait for eternity.  Many die in prison.    

In the face of all these challenges, the judiciary has shouldered through.  The remnant staff has been managing the shaky structure with almost nothing, subsidizing the government with their meagre earnings.  Simple necessities like bench paper and pens have become scarce.  The officer has to improvise.  Warrants of arrest are now being handwritten.  Nobody knows the last time government printers printed warrants of arrests.  Judgments are not typed and an accused person who wants his judgment for purposes of processing an appeal has to provide the relevant office with bond paper.

The bad situations are when an accused person has been granted bail by the court, but has to remain in custody because there is no Bail Receipt Book.  What a miscarriage of justice.  These are not secret. They have been reported in the local media.

The working environment resembles one vast latrine, because ZINWA supplies water once a week.  Many times Tredgold Building has had to work half day because City Council cut supplies because of non-payment.  As I document this tragedy, Western Commonage Court runs for five days without water.   

The Minister thinks it’s not bad enough.  We are not surprised.  He has probably lost a sense of smell.  He is an award-winning tobacco grower.  

Zimbabwe now seasonally expects nurses, doctors and teachers to go on strike.  It has become a tradition. But it is not so with the Judiciary, which soldiers on. Human Rights violations increase everyday, crime on the rise, and domestic violence has caused so much noise.  The Judiciary has stood in all this with the victim without looking at its own wounds, but inside wondering if somebody out there would notice, or at least smell the stench coming from its chambers.  The silence was deafening.  At once the Judge President spoke.  It remained the lone voice in the wilderness.  A deafening silence, even from Human Rights Organisations who usually stand with the oppressed.     

Does the judiciary have any rights of its own?  When it is beaten up and stripped naked and left by the roadside, bleeding, from whom does it expect relief?

Now that the judiciary has engaged in unprecedented industrial action, a human rights disaster is inevitable.  Unconvicted prisoners find themselves locked up for longer than the law allows, with no access to justice.  The convicted ones awaiting sentence have to serve extra time.  Only God knows what is happening to the fresh arrests the police effect everyday.

The Judicial Officers are not asking for anything out of the world.  All they are asking for is their dignity back. The government says there is no money and yet they manage to spoil the chiefs with the luxurious cars.  Do resources suddenly vanish when it is about the judiciary?

This is an appeal to civilized individuals and organisations to respond to the cry of the lonely voice.  You cannot talk about human rights anywhere else and leave the judiciary out. An abuse of the judiciary is the worst human rights violation, because society drinks of justice from that lone breast.

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