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  • Chinamasa fires salvo at lawyers, defends Tomana, and cautions against abuse of section 121 of the CPEA
    Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)

    March 15, 2010

    Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa on Monday 15 March 2010 claimed that corruption was very rampant among legal practitioners both in public and private practice and blamed "so-called leading criminal lawyers" for conveying bribe money to magistrates and prosecutors.

    Chinamasa who was appearing before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal Affairs, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, bemoaned the lack of cooperation between his ministry and the Law Society of Zimbabwe, which he accused of "turning a blind eye" on inappropriate conduct he alleged was exhibited by members of the lawyers' regulatory body.

    Although he condemned the arrest of lawyers simply for representing their clients, he warned lawyers not to "use criminal means to defend or protect their clients" as they would be "liable to arrest and prosecution".

    The Justice Minister said he regretted the arrest of senior media and human rights lawyer Mordecai Mahlangu for simply writing a letter to Attorney General (AG) Johannes Tomana on behalf of his client.

    Chinamasa also cautioned prosecutors against recklessly invoking Section 121 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act (CPEA) to reverse the granting of bail by the courts to accused persons.

    Prosecutors and law officers from the AG's office have, on numerous occasions, abused this controversial provision of the CPEA. The practice of invoking Section 121 has had the effect of keeping individuals in custody for a further seven days in order to allow the State time to appeal the granting of bail. In almost all cases the appeals have either never filed, or were dismissed by the superior courts.

    By compiling and highlighting these cases and statistics, Zimbabwe Lawyers For Human Rights has in recent months argued that the provision continues to be used selectively and unlawfully by the AG's office against human rights defenders and legitimate political activists in order to persecute these individuals, even where courts have found no evidence that they would pose a threat to the interests of justice, society or the State, if they were to be released on bail.

    Chinamasa cautioned that Section 121 should not be used willy-nilly by the AG's Office. He blamed the unwarranted invocation of the provision on lack of training on the part of prosecutors and law officers from the AG's office.
    Although he said there is nothing wrong with the law, the Minister said invocation of Section 121 should be reserved to senior lawyers and not be delegated to prosecutors prosecuting in outlying areas such as Buhera.
    He urged concerned people to report incidences of the abuse of Section 121 to him.

    The Justice Minister defended the appointment of military personnel to high-ranking positions in the Zimbabwe Prison Service (ZPS) ahead of career prison personnel. He said officers from the army were better skilled than those from the ZPS.

    Chinamasa disclosed that the government is considering holding court sessions at the country's remand prisons because the ZPS has in recent years failed to transport prisoners to court.

    The Justice Minister said he has now finalised the Memorandum of Principles of the AG Bill which he will table before Cabinet while the Judicial Services Act will soon be operationalised after some delays.

    Asked about his opinion and concerns surrounding the competence and controversial appointment of Johannes Tomana, Chinamasa defended and backed the AG's appointment. "With respect to his appointment and skills I give him 100%," Chinamasa said.

    The appointment of Tomana and that of Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor, Gideon Gono is currently being contested by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

    The MDC wants President Robert Mugabe, among other things, to relieve Tomana and Gono of their duties because their appointments were unprocedural. The MDC says the unilateral appointments of Tomana and Gono by President Robert Mugabe are threatening the implementation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) that created the Zimbabwe's fragile power-sharing government.

    Chinamasa regretted that lawyers were deserting the legal profession and taking up jobs in the corporate and NGO sector.

    He described the quality of law graduates being churned out of the country's universities as dismal as some of the graduates were failing to draft letters of demand. He said that authorities at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) had made the law faculty a no-go area for his ministry.

    "What is happening there is politics throughout. The UZ can do better than teaching politics. We expect students to be taught proper law subjects at the faculty of law," said Chinamasa.

    He said it is embarrassing that Zimbabwean Judges were not being well remunerated and blamed the country's economic calamity for the poor salaries that they are currently earning.

    He defended the Judges' acquisition of commercial farms under the land reform programme, saying that it was a "national programme which must not be shut off to a certain group of people".

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