Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, opening the 2011 legal year at a ceremony in Harare Monday, said the government could not adequately fund the courts given the embattled economy. He said pay and conditions for judges and officials were "embarrassingly low" and court houses were in a state of ill repair, some even posing health risks from broken plumbing.
Chidyausiku said "serious consideration" needed to be given to getting extra money from the corporate world. He suggested the judiciary set up an independent trust fund that would take money from contributors without influencing cases.
Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku on Monday called on the executive and parliament to desist from hearing or commenting on matters that are before the courts saying the two arms of government should respect the judiciary’s constitutional role.
Officially opening the 2011 legal year, Justice Chidyausiku said the three arms of government, the judiciary, executive and the legislature must respect each other’s constitutional sovereignty.
Debate has been raging in the country whether or not the legislature and the executive have the right and mandate to hear and comment on matters that are before the courts.
Parliament last year said it had the right to hear matters before the courts in their parliamentary portfolio committee hearings as it is entitled to do so.
This was after Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Patrick Chinamasa had refused to appear before a parliamentary portfolio committee of Mines and Energy over the Shabanie Mashava Mines (SMM) saga saying the matter is before the courts.
Justice Chidyausiku, however, said it is inappropriate for parliament or the executive to deliberate on matters that are pending before the courts.
“It is equally inappropriate for Parliament, in plenary or committee, to deliberate on matters that are pending before the courts and are yet to be determined,” Justice Chidyausiku said.
“It is inappropriate for members of the Executive to communicate to the Judiciary their legal opinions on matters that are pending before the courts.”
Home Affairs co-minister Theresa Makone last year wrote a letter to the Attorney General, Johannes Tomana asking the top government lawyer to act on fake offer letters that are being used to evict the remaining white farmers off their land.
The letter was copied to Chinamasa and Justice Chidyausiku.
Justice Chidyausiku lamented the low remuneration of the judicial officers who are now under the Judicial Services Commission established last year.
He said serious consideration must be made to source money from the corporate world to contribute in improving the salaries of judicial officers as well as equipping and resourcing the courts as “judicial officers cannot deliver when and if they are not well equipped to do so.”
“The fact that the national purse cannot fund the Judiciary to acceptable levels admits of debate. Consequently serious consideration should be given to enlist assistance from the corporate world and other well-wishers to contribute, through a trust fund, towards the funding of the Judicial Service,” Justice Chidyausiku said.
“The contributions, through a trust fund will ensure the insulation of the Judiciary from the benefactors.”
The Law Society of Zimbabwe vice president, Tinoziva Bere said the creation of the trust fund must only be a stop gap measure but said it is the responsibility of government to ensure that the judiciary is well resourced.
“The danger of not remunerating judicial officers properly is two-fold. One, you make them susceptible to bribery and other corrupt practices and two, you run the risk of constantly losing competent judicial officers who will be seeking greener pastures and that tends to reduce the quality of judicial officers,” Bere said.
“The country must take full responsibility for the proper resourcing and payment of the needs of the judiciary and it must never be left to benefactors donating to the judiciary.”
Bere said the LSZ welcomes the establishment of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) saying the organization will continue to lobby the legislature and the government for the judiciary to be truly independent.
On the debate on the issue of commenting on matters that are before the courts, Bere said there were cases that attract people’s attention and when the people need to be informed,uch cases must be treated in a manner that allows people to be informed and for the right of the people to debate freely as enshrined in the constitution.
“We have observed that the most topical issues that affect members of the public always generate a lot of debate and that concern must always be balanced by the right of the people to be informed and the right of the people to debate issues openly and to express their opinions freely which is guaranteed by the constitution,” Bere said.