Rebuked judges improve performance


Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku’s

Cyril Zenda

CHIEF Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku’s recent rebuke of lazy judges appears to be bearing fruit, with more cases finalised in six months than those handled in the whole of last year.
Statistics from the Judiciary Services Commission (JSC) indicate that as at mid-July this year, the 30 High Court judges had processed more than 770 cases compared to about 400 judgments they delivered during the whole of 2014.
While opening the 2015 legal year, Chidyausiku expressed grave disappointment at the performance of some High Court judges, while singling out just five of them for a stellar performance.
Chidyausiku, who suggested putting new judges on probation in order to assess their competence, pointed out that some judges had delivered only two or three cases the whole year.
Bulawayo judge Justice Nicholas Mathonsi, whom he singled out as the highest performer, had delivered a record 72 judgments that year.
Chidyausiku’s criticism of colleagues elicited an angry response from 21 judges who felt the uncharitable remarks were targeted at them. The judges wrote a strongly worded letter accusing the Chief Justice of misleading the nation.
“With all due respect, the Honourable Chief Justice’s speech was highly misleading,” said the judges, who indicated that they felt “humiliated, dejected and despondent” as a result of their public rebuke.
Despite the judges’ protest, Chidyausiku remained adamant.
“The Chief Justice maintains his position that there will be no end to the fight between him and the under-performing judges unless they improve,” he said in a statement issued by the JSC.
“In future, the Chief Justice will report all under-performing judges to the Judicial Services Commission for the procedures set out in Section 187 of the Constitution to unfold.”
It would appear from the latest statistics that the judges have reformed.
By July 15 this year, a total of 619 written judgments had been delivered by judges at the Harare High Court, while those at the Bulawayo High Court had delivered 153 judgments.
This is in contrast to the 406 judgments delivered by both the Harare and Bulawayo High Courts in 2014.
By last week, the Supreme Court had delivered judgments in 45 cases compared to the 80 delivered the whole of last year. The 80 cases adjudicated upon by the court in 2014 reflected an improvement on the 65 cases concluded by the same period in 2013.
Harare lawyer, Vote Muza, said the Chief Justice’s approach was the best under the circumstances.
“Gone are the days when judges went unsupervised and did as they please, spending great time at their farms instead of their chambers,” Muza told The Financial Gazette.
He said Chidyausiku had threatened to invoke Section 187 of the Constitution to deal with underforming judges.
“Some of the grounds on which a judge may be relieved of his/her duties are gross incompetence, or gross misconduct. I believe an aggravated failure to deliver judgments on time or failure to deliver judgments constitutes gross incompetence,” said Muza.
“Section 165 provides for principles guiding the judiciary. One such principle is that justice must not be delayed. This section also acts as a code of conduct since it contains what judges must not do. Please note that our Constitution is very modern and fairly democratic in so far as provisions concerning the judiciary are concerned.”
United Kingdom-based lawyer, Alex Magaisa, said Chidyausiku’s public condemnation of poor performance had brought about accountability among the judges.
“The issue arising from the tiff between the Chief Justice (Chidyausiku) and the judges of the High Court is one of accountability of the judiciary as an arm of the State. Too often what we hear is the cry for the independence of the judiciary, which is very important, but less often do we hear of accountability of the judiciary. The cry for accountability is usually directed at the ‘political’ arms of the State, namely Parliament and the Executive. There seems to have been an assumption that the judiciary can be trusted to conduct themselves well and to meet the standards of accountability,” said Magaisa.
“But this is a flawed assumption as often incompetence, lethargy, laziness and corrupt behaviour are left to fester behind the veil. These problems can manifest through late delivery of judicial decisions, poor quality of judgments and acts of injustice when corruption is rife. There is no one else to place the judicial under scrutiny except the judiciary itself. It is therefore proper that the judicial system creates a mechanism to enforce accountability and to deal with vices such as laziness, incompetence and corruption.”