Bennett cries foul over defamation

Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) treasurer Roy Bennett has accused High Court Judge Justice Chinembiri Bhunu of abusing the court process by filing a defamation suit against the popular former legislator.

Bhunu’s lawyers issued a summons against the MDC treasurer in September claiming $1-million in damages for defamation.

The lawyers alleged that the damages resulted from wrongful and defamatory words which were uttered by Bennett during an interview with The Guardian newspaper of the United Kingdom, on or around May 9 2010, before Justice Bhunu acquitted him of plotting to overthrow the government.

Justice Bhunu’s lawyers say the remarks were published on May 24 2010 by an internet-based publication, the Zimbabwe Guardian newspaper, which they claim enjoys wide distribution on account of it being available on the internet free of charge.

Bennett is alleged to have stated that: "To know that the people who are doing it will stop at absolutely nothing to achieve their ends and that there is a selective application of the rule of law, that the judiciary is totally compromised, that the very judge that’s trying me is the owner of a farm that he’s been given through political patronage, that all the appointments have been done through the Ministry of Justice on a political basis … basically I should expect no mercy and fear for the worst".

But in his defendant’s plea filed in the High Court recently Bennett denied ever having an interview with the Guardian newspaper.

"The defendant (Bennett) denies having an interview with a Guardian newspaper as alleged, denies making the remarks attributed to him, does not know the alleged reporter, denies meeting or being interviewed by him in Harare or anywhere else and defendant puts plaintiff (Bhunu) to the strict proof of his claims," reads part of Bennett’s plea.

Bennett said Bhunu’s claim should be dismissed as it was unjustified.

"The defendant pleads that the plaintiff’s claim is grossly excessive, constitutes gross abuse of court process and the claim ought to be dismissed with costs," said Bennett.

Bhunu’s lawyers, of Chikumbirike and Associates Legal Practitioners, argue that Bennett’s remarks were "wrongful and defamatory" as they were intended to convey "that the plaintiff (Justice Bhunu) was not a fit and proper person to be a judge".

The lawyers claim that Bennett’s statements imputed that Bhunu was "a conscious and willing tool" who was "deliberately selected to preside over the defendant’s (Bennett’s) trial by persons that will stop at absolutely nothing to achieve their ends by a selective application of the rule of law".

The defamation is further alleged to have occurred in that Bennett’s remarks intended to convey and were understood by the readers of the Guardian newspaper to mean that "the plaintiff’s integrity as a judge and to preside over the defendant’s trial (was) totally compromised by virtue of the fact that his appointment was not based on merit but political patronage and connections. This lack of judicial integrity having been achieved by the allocation of a farm through the Land Reform Programme".

Bhunu acquitted Bennett in May 2010 after ruling that the state’s prosecution team, led by Attorney General Johannes Tomana, had failed to establish a prima facie case against the former Chimanimani member of parliament, who had been on trial on terror-related charges.

Tomana later appealed against Justice Bhunu’s decision to acquit Bennett.

Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku has reserved judgment after hearing submissions from both the state and Bennett’s lawyers in relation to the appeal. – TimesLive