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Legal Monitor - Special Edition
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)

February 04, 2013

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JSC pledges to clear backlog

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) says it is working flat out to clear the backlog of cases at the country's Magistrates' Courts, senior officials have said.

In an interview with The Legal Monitor, the JSC Secretary, Justice Rita Makarau said since the incorporation of the Magistrates' Courts into the JSC, the judicial officers were now more accountable and results showed a great improvement in the determination and disposal rate of cases.

"Because the Chief Justice (Godfrey Chidyausiku, who heads the JSC) is interested in the output of the courts, he wants reports on a regular basis and we have seen a marked improvement," said Justice Makarau.

"The Magistrates' Courts are a living example. This year we have recorded a decrease in the backlog by 65 percent because now the Chief Justice is demanding reports; what is each station doing, why they are not performing," said Justice Makarau, adding that the JSC was dealing with problems which caused courts to fail to perform.

"And because of that close monitoring by the head of the judiciary himself we have seen a marked reduction in the backlog. Magistrates are now accountable. They have time that they have to spend in court and reports are compiled every month for each and every magistrate.

"If the magistrate was not in court, say for the 60 hours, reasons have to be given. If one did not perform then the Chief Justice will come hard on that individual," the former Judge President said.

She said when the Magistrates' Courts were part of the Public Service Commission, a fragmented judiciary resulted in lack of accountability.

"Things were left to the Chief Magistrate to run and he would simply file reports with the permanent secretary (in the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs) who was not in a position to then direct how things should operate."

Asked if the days of laissez faire at the Magistrates Courts were gone for good, the JSC Secretary said: "Gone are those days. Everybody now has to account. You have a minimum number of hours that you have to put in at court. If you don't put in those hours, you have to explain yourself. You cannot just come in and remand cases. Your disposal rate is looked at; how many cases have you completed per month? T here is a monthly report that goes to the Chief Justice and if we continue with that trend we can wipe out the backlog in two years, completely, in the Magistrates' Courts."

She said the JSC was still compiling statistics in other courts such as the Labour and Administrative Courts to measure output.

"But the same spirit pervades the entire judicial service. Everybody now knows they are being monitored not only on the quantity that they produce but the quality of work as well, so nobody wants the Chief Justice to be constantly calling them to explain," she added.

Justice Makarau revealed that magistrates stationed at Gokwe and Chivhu courts were outstanding as they had already cleared their backlogs.

"The magistrates are actually waiting for cases to come. But instead of waiting in the courtroom for cases to come, we have begun transferring cases from other busy stations to courts where work is less busy," she said. "We are quite proud of that achievement - for the first time we have zero backlog in some areas. "

Her deputy Rex Shana said assistance from the Royal Danish embassy, which provided 11 vehicles to the JSC, plus the extra effort by the JSC had eased some of the problems experienced by magistrates such as failing to reach some remote circuit courts.

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