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Petition on International Human Rights Day
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)

December 10, 2010


We, the Members of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), being deeply committed to fostering a culture of human rights and respect for the Rule of Just Law in Zimbabwe and throughout the African continent, remain greatly concerned by the continued dereliction by the state in addressing the conditions of service and other challenges facing Magistrates in Zimbabwe and which negatively impact on their ability to effectively administer justice.

Magistrates remain pivotal in the justice delivery system by providing access to justice, and inevitably they are key players in ensuring adherence to the Rule of Just Law and general protection of fundamental rights and freedoms in Zimbabwe.

Presiding over the majority of cases as the 'courts of first instance', Magistrates become the public face of the justice delivery system and serve the following critical functions:

  • They determine in their day-to-day work the vast majority of all the civil and criminal cases that arise throughout the whole country. .
  • They facilitate access to justice and realisation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens, and particularly protect vulnerable and marginalised groups.
  • They enable accused persons - who are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty - to enjoy their rights to fair trial and to be heard by an independent tribunal.
  • As part of the Judiciary, and as conceptualised in the separation of powers doctrine, they play a vital role in scrutinising the actions of the Executive and the Legislature, and check excessive actions and policies which negatively impact on Zimbabwean society.

Although the Judicial Services Act became operative in June 2010, ZLHR notes that, in and of itself, the Act does not provide an adequate baseline to facilitate the institutional and personal independence of Magistrates. This is despite their critical role in the justice delivery sector. As a result they continue to face numerous challenges emanating from the poor conditions they work within, and these inhibit the dispensation of their mandate impartially and independently.

Some of the challenges include:

  • Poor remuneration that does not guarantee them a decent standard of living. Magistrates are important members of society due to the role they play in the administration of justice. Poor remuneration which results in them living as paupers and heavily relying on others for their sustenance not only degrades them and their office, but also has the potential of compromising their independence and impartiality and making them amenable to corrupt activities which become difficult to reverse.
  • Undermining of the authority of Magistrates by other state functionaries who are ordinarily supposed to complement their work to ensure the speedy resolution of all cases that are pending within the courts. For example police officers who are witnesses in court cases do not turn up at court as advised, resulting in incessant delays that could be prevented to ensure that cases are finalised in the shortest time possible.
  • Defiance of the Orders and decisions of Magistrates by the Executive and other state and non-state actors, which serves to undermine their authority, as well as impacting negatively on the Rule of Law and delivery of justice.
  • No mechanisms exist to prevent or deal with the continued victimisation and harassment of Magistrates who carry out their work professionally resulting in continued impunity of state functionaries, or even non-state actors. Some examples of continuing insecurity of Magistrates include threats and intimidation, arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, and malicious prosecution on varying spurious criminal allegations over the years.
  • The non-conducive working environment within which Magistrates work, which includes non-provision of adequate stationery, bench papers, and other essentials including textbooks, basic statutes, and law reports. Without these "tools of trade", Magistrates lack capacity to speedily dispense justice in an informed, efficient and effective manner.
  • Magistrates continue to lack continuing judicial and legal education to enable them to determine cases knowledgably and be aware of the ever-changing jurisprudence within the region and the world at large.

Cognisant of the urgent need, therefore, to take measures to advance the transformation of the Magistracy to ensure immediate realisation of the right to be heard by an independent court of law, to further protect fundamental rights and freedoms, and to ensure public confidence in the justice delivery process, we the members of ZLHR call upon the following stakeholders responsible to speedily address the plight of Magistrates by taking the following measures:

The Executive

  • Uphold the Rule of Law and promote and protect human rights.
  • Observe and respect all court orders and judicial decisions, and contribute to the fight against impunity by taking stern and uncompromising action against those institutions and individuals who defy court orders.
  • Jealously guard and respect the separation of powers by promoting and ensuring the constitutional guarantee of an independent and effective Judiciary.
  • Guarantee freedom from interference in the work of Magistrates who carry out their duties professionally and ensure adequate security measures are put in place to protect Magistrates during the course of their duties.

The Legislature

  • Take immediate steps to deal proactively in addressing - through legislative provisions and other administrative measures - the conditions of service of the Magistrates. These steps include, but are not limited to the following:
  • Expeditiously amending the Judicial Service Act to ensure that there is greater representation of and by Magistrates in the Judicial Service Commission.
  • The Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs must work closely with the Judicial Service Commission, the Chief Magistrate, and the Magistrates' Association to identify and guarantee adequate remuneration and other benefits and conditions of service of Magistrates independently of the public service.
  • The Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Home Affairs must obtain evidence from the Magistracy and other stakeholders in the justice delivery system of the actions of those within the Executive who seek to undermine the integrity of the Courts and provide a way forward in dealing with this serious issue.
  • Ensure that adequate funds are allocated to the judiciary - especially the Magistrates' Courts throughout Zimbabwe - to sustain their material needs and deal effectively with the identified challenges in every fiscal year.
  • Guarantee the independence and security of the Magistrates in any Constitution and corresponding legislation in Zimbabwe.

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