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Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Weekly Media Update 2006-27
Monday July 3rd 2006 - Sunday July 9th 2006

THE media’s growing reluctance or inability to inform the public adequately on important national issues was illustrated by their failure to publicize details of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which came into effect on July 2. The law, which was passed by Parliament in 2004 and gazetted on June 16th this year, creates about 15 new crimes, abolishes others and redefines other offences such as sodomy and rape.

But despite the Act’s far reaching effects on the conduct of the citizenry and the delivery of justice in the country, the media – except for the Sunday News (2/7) – were conspicuous by their silence.

As a result, only the Sunday News’ readers had the privilege of learning about the new law. The paper cited university law professor, Geoff Feltoe, saying the law would affect Zimbabweans’ civil liberties. For example, the paper revealed that sodomy had been broadened to include "not only acts of anal sexual intercourse, but also… any act involving physical contact between males that would be regarded by a reasonable person as an indecent act". As such, it noted, "a seemingly intimate embrace or hug between two men would presumably be construed as a crime".

Apart from highlighting such changes, the paper exposed the confusion the Act was likely to create in the country’s judicial system. It quoted members of the judiciary and police expressing ignorance on the criminal law reforms. One unnamed lawyer told the paper that members of the judiciary were "caught unawares" by the new law and called on the authorities to conduct awareness campaigns "as a matter of urgency to avoid situations where suspects are wrongly charged and prosecuted".

An unnamed "senior detective" agreed, revealing that he was "hearing that (the Act) for the first time" as the police had "not been advised of such fundamental changes in the law". Said the police officer: "We will have a serious problem in laying appropriate charges because it would appear we are not aware of this development from constables on the ground who are responsible for receiving reports at stations right up to senior officers".

However, the paper (9/2) quoted Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa denying such claims, saying he was "surprised" that lawyers, the police and prosecutors were unaware of the Act because they had "two years to familiarise themselves with the legal reforms". He did not clarify whether government had conducted public awareness campaigns on the matter.

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