Daniel Nemukuyu Investigations and Special Reports Editor
Laxity and suspected corruption in the criminal justice system has seen scores of convicted people walking scot-free despite having lost their appeals at the High Court, The Herald can reveal.
In Harare alone, there are 26 convicts out, and it is estimated that hundreds more could be free nationwide in a rot that has festered over the years, with some high-profile individuals involved.
At the centre of this scandal is failure or neglect to act upon warrants of arrest that the courts would have issued against the criminals.
Some lawyers and police officers are believed to be at the centre of the shenanigans, which at times see the convicts buying their freedom through paying bribes to police details sent to apprehend them.
In some cases, the officers relay wrong information that they would have failed to locate the criminals when the culprits are reportedly seen enjoying their freedom in the streets of the capital.
The figure could be double, for the whole country, considering that some appeals are dealt with at other High Court stations in Bulawayo, Mutare and Masvingo.
Most of them immediately file notices of appeal against conviction and sentence to lay the basis of mounting a bail application pending determination of the appeal.
While out of custody, the convicts take advantage of the loopholes in the system and relax until the courts “forget” about their cases.
In terms of the criminal appeal process, the onus to prosecute the appeal lies with the appellant, who can choose to drag or abandon the appeal.
At times, the appellant deliberately changes lawyers to confuse the system resulting in some correspondences from the Registrar of the High Court being sent to wrongaddresses.
However, the Registrar of the High Court in terms of the rules of that court, is now empowered to dismiss appeals for want of prosecution.
Other appeals are dismissed by the judges in court.
Investigations by The Herald show that at least 26 convicts in Harare alone are illegally out of custody and should be committed to prison.
Some warrants have been issued as far back as last year, but for unclear reasons, the convicts have not been brought before the courts for committal to prison.
Between January and June this year, the Harare Magistrates’ Court has sent out at least 25 warrants of arrest to several police stations but no arrests have been made.
The list include three ivory thieves jailed 18 years each some five years ago, who are unlawfully enjoying freedom.
The three are James Mayor, Reuben Foya and Jonah Paraffin.
They were arrested following a high-speed chase with the police along the Harare-Bindura Road.
A Mbare quartet comprising Ernest Jonga, Sedrick Kachengo, Innocent Gumbo and Kelvin John, which was jailed 18 months for stealing more than $5 000 from a dying woman at an accident scene, is also on the wanted list.
The other criminals on the list are: Paul Chisano, Tarisai Homba, Antony C. Pahwaringira, Tendesayi C. Nyambayo, Whisky Munama, Simbarashe Chikambi, Ngonidzashe Munaiwa, Self Mwanangureni, Riana Moss, Marian Concillia Chakaredza, Penniless Mtekairi, Caroline Naume Murondiwa, Admit Nhidza, Calisto Bisenti, Rodney Chipfuwa, Lesley Kahari, Trustme Kauzani, Aurello Bernard Deve and Temesson Debbebe Wabelo.
The Registrar of the High Court dismisses appeals for different reasons.
Some deliberately fail to pay costs associated with the preparation of the court record to enable the hearing of the appeal, which is also viewed as failure to prosecute the appeal.
Others do not file heads of argument to substantiate their appeals, which is also deemed failure to prosecute the appeal.
Some file their appeal papers out of time while others do not show up when they are called to inspect the transcribed court record.
To that end, the Registrar of the High Court writes to the lower court informing the Clerk of Court of the dismissal of the cases.
Warrants of arrest are then issued at the lower court and sent to the respective police stations for the suspects to be arrested and taken to court for committal to prison.
When warrants are issued, sources say, some criminals pay police officers bribes who try to arrest them.
When a police officer is paid, he gives a false report to his superiors that they are failing to locate the culprits.
Prosecutor-General Mr Kumbirai Hodzi said his office was aware of the shenanigans, which also involve some lawyers.
He said measures were being put in place to stem the rot.
“The National Prosecuting Authority and the JSC are aware of those dirty tricks and we are putting into place measures to stop that abuse.
“We are also working with other stakeholders like the police and the Law Society of Zimbabwe to curb the rot,” he said.
JSC Acting Secretary Mr Walter Chikwana said when the courts issue warrants of arrest, everything is left to the police to apprehend the criminals.
“When we issue a warrant of arrest, we sent them to the relevant police stations for the culprits to be apprehended.
“We will only come on board when the police arrest the criminals. That is when a magistrate explains the outcome of the appeal to the convict before committing him or her to prison,” he said.
Mr Chikwana said JSC had put in place administrative measures in the management of appeals, which were now bearing fruit.
“In the past we used to have challenges with appeals because there was a gap between the Registrar of the High Court and the Clerk of Court and the lower court.
“We managed to close the gap administratively and that is why we now have regular updates on appeals and dismissal of a number of them for failure to prosecute.
“On a weekly basis, the Registrar of the High Court and the Clerks of Court have a process of updating appeal records.
“Some appeals are now being determined within three months of filing while a few may go up to a year depending on the complexity of the records.
“But it is a great improvement from the past where cases would go unnoticed for over a decade,” said Mr Chikwana.
Asked for comment, police chief spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said: “I need to get the details of the cases first. Today (Sunday) is a weekend, si I will gt back to you tomorrow (Monday)”.