TWENTY-ONE out of 24 Harare High Court judges, criticised by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku for being lazy, have reacted saying the top judge is out of touch with modern trends in the justice delivery system.Efforts to get comment from Chief Justice Chidyausiku yesterday were fruitless.
Officially opening the 2015 Legal Year last month, Chief Justice Chiyausiku criticised most High Court judges for under-performance and said that the majority were lazy.
So bad, he said, was the situation that one of the judges had only managed to complete two cases the whole year.
But the judges have reacted and consider most of the contents of Chief Justice Chidyausiku’s speech as having been delivered in bad faith.
Only three judges — Justices Nicholas Mathonsi, Susan Mavangira and Priscilla Chigumba, who were singled out for praise by Chief Justice Chidyausiku — did not sign a letter written to Judge President Justice George Chiweshe, the head of the High Court, for onward transmission to the Chief Justice.
Justice Custom Kachambwa of the Gweru Labour Court also wrote to Chief Justice Chidyausiku after he was criticised over delays in writing judgments.
The Harare judges want Chief Justice Chidyausiku to correct “the wrong impression created” and repair the damage inflicted on their reputation and dignity by placing all relevant information in the public domain.
They also want the Chief Justice to come up with an objective, fair and just appraisal system for all judges in respect of their judicial, quasi-judicial and non-judicial functions.
“With all due respect, the Honourable Chief Justice’s speech was highly misleading,” the judges said.
“In some respects it contained inaccurate and damaging analyses, impressions and conclusions, particularly with regards to the performance of the High Court in general and that of the individual judges, both named and unnamed,” said the judges.
“The judges are feeling humiliated, dejected and despondent. They feel they have lost their dignity in the eyes of the public. The moral is very low, especially given that the depressing issue of unfulfilled conditions of service was practically a footnote in the Chief Justice’s speech.
“In view of the public’s reaction to the speech, it is felt that there is now a compelling need to set the record straight by placing all the relevant statistics and information in the public domain so that the performance of the High Court can properly be judged.”
The judges said Chief Justice Chidyausiku criticised one of the judges for writing two judgements for the entire year when he was the one who had assigned the same judge to non-judicial functions.
They said upon return to the High Court, the same judge was assigned to head a special court where he wrote several judgements which were not captured in Chief Justice Chidyausiku’s speech because they did not appear in the court’s tracking system.
In his speech, Chief Justice Chidyausiku made reference to the performance of each of the courts of law in Zimbabwe starting with the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, High Court, Labour Court and then the Magistrates Courts.
On the High Court, the Chief Justice based his assessment of the performance of the individual judges solely on the written judgements bearing HH (High Court Harare) and HB (High Court Bulawayo) numbers.
“The modern trend is to minimise the writing of formal judgements that, in fact, may satisfy neither of the parties affected,” said the judges.
“There is a shift even in the courts towards the use of other equally effective alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation, conciliations, compromise and arbitration. A judge with a high degree of success in achieving settlements out of court is no less hard working than the next judge with a higher number of HH and HB judgements.”
Apart from dealing with HH and HB judgements, the judges said, they also dealt with other matters which were not considered by Chief Justice Chidyausiku such as trial matters, opposed and unopposed applications, chamber applications, pre-trial conferences, electoral and fiscal matters, civil and criminal appeals and criminal reviews.
The judges said some of them not commended by Chief Justice Chidyausiku were saddled with complex trials which took their time.
They said more senior judges were also from time to time being called to help out at the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court, a fact Chief Justice Chidyausiku did not consider.
“The fact that almost all the bottom four or least performing judges are the more experienced ones and not the recently appointed judges should have triggered a proper analysis of the situation instead of imputing incompetence on them,” said the judges.
“It must be stressed that all the judges, conscious of the fact that in terms of the section 162 of the Constitution judicial authority derives from the people of Zimbabwe, do welcome and desire every opportunity to have their performance assessed, scrutinised, judged and rated by, and for the public.”
The judges said by the nature of his speech Chief Justice Chidyausiku had admitted that appointments to the bench have not been done on merit.
“In that respect, the speech clearly has political, social and economic implications for the country,” they said. “Among other things, no investor would want to invest in an economy where even the head of the judiciary admits that those he leads are mediocre.
“But we do not believe that we deserve to be characterised as lazy and incompetent. We believe that we were appointed on merit by the appointing authority.”