A judiciary gone to the dogs

Rabson Govere, 49, from Chitungwiza, came face-to-face with corruption in the judiciary when a neighbour raped his 15-year-old daughter and the case went to court.

‘‘The whole case has been botched up,’’ he told The Zimbabwean. ‘‘I started to suspect something was wrong when the suspect was released from remand at the second hearing, and an application for bail went unopposed. Next, I was being told that the rape kit had disappeared at the police station, and now two key witnesses cannot be found.’’

It is now six months since the rape case went for trial, ‘‘but nothing is happening and I don’t know who to complain to’’ Govere said.

Anywhere in the world, the judiciary is supposed to be run in an impartial, transparent, fair and morally upright manner.

In Zimbabwe, as in many other cases characterised by poverty and greed, this is not so. Over the years, the justice system seems to have thrown all books out of the window and the judiciary now ranks among the most corrupt institutions, according to Transparency International Zimbabwe.

“There is massive corruption within the justice delivery system. Sometimes, one feels like being choked by these unprecedented levels of corruption,” the Deputy Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Obert Gutu, recently said.

As a top official interfacing with the justice system on a daily basis, and as a policy maker, there is no reason to doubt his perception of the judiciary.

In fact, many people, ranging from senior government officials to the woman in the street, share his view of the institution of which he is part.

Patrick Chinamasa, Gutu’s boss in the Ministry and a senior member of Zanu (PF), has also expressed disgust at the level of corruption within the judiciary. He said he was being swamped by reports detailing rampant corruption in the justice delivery system.

According to him, corruption starts with wayward prison officers who work in cahoots with legal practitioners to unduly influence the delivery of justice. The situation has become so bad, Chinamasa declared, that prison officers have turned into prisoners’ advocates, counsels and legal brokers.

“In the fight against corruption, we have been leaving out the prison officers and lawyers in private practice,” he said. “But I was surprised to learn that some prison officers were busy advising suspects to engage services of known corrupt lawyers who knew which corrupt police officers and corrupt court officials to deal with,” said Chinamasa.

“In fact, corruption starts from the prison,” he said. “I also received reports that some senior lawyers were also advising their clients how to corrupt the system to get favourable outcomes.”

He lamented the decline in the quality of legal services offered by most lawyers, urging the Law Society of Zimbabwe to quickly embark on its planned comprehensive skills training programmes.

In a recent statement, LSZ called for a concerted approach to the rot in the justice delivery system.

“The Society (has) continued efforts to mitigate these challenges (corruption) and rely on a combination of responses ranging from engagement of the authorities and responsible institutions to activating international support for our cause,’’ read the statement.

The starting point, said LSZ, was to improve conditions of service in the system, a demand that the Judiciary Service Commission has also acceded to.

‘‘We also believe that conditions of service for JSC staff must be completely de-linked from the Public Service Commission conditions. In the end though, we consider that a multi-sectoral approach and a swift one alone will address the ills of corruption,” said LSZ in a statement.

The media has been awash with reports of dockets mysteriously missing from the courts, despite the tight security under which they are kept. A number of prosecutors have also been arrested for demanding or accepting bribes in order to throw a case out or to dilute it, after traps were set.

A senior police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Zimbabwean : ‘‘It is not only prosecutors or magistrates who dabble in corruption. Law officers and even lawyers also get bribes or bribe others in order to influence the outcome of cases. But there is a subtle form of corruption when highly ranked law officers get gifts in the form of farms or cars to deliberate in certain directions preferred by the bribers.’’

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