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on International Human Rights Day
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
December 10, 2010
URGENT ATTENTION TO THE CONDITIONS OF SERVICE FOR THE MAGISTRACY
TO ENHANCE THE PROPER ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE
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
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.
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
- 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.
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
- 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
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.
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
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.
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:
- Uphold the
Rule of Law and promote and protect human rights.
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
guard and respect the separation of powers by promoting and ensuring
the constitutional guarantee of an independent and effective Judiciary.
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
- 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:
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.
the independence and security of the Magistrates in any Constitution
and corresponding legislation in Zimbabwe.
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