Harare – Civil society organisations agreed to oppose the constitutional amendment being pushed by government to alter the process of appointment of top Zimbabwean judges at an emergence meeting coordinated by Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.
The meeting was held at the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) offices in Harare on Wednesday, February 1, 2017.
The proposed amendment Bill gazetted in December 2016 seeks to allow the President free rein to appoint the Chief Justice, the Deputy Chief Justice and the Judge President of the High Court.
Speaking at the emergence meeting, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) director, Roselyn Hanzi listed reasons why the proposed amendment could pose a threat to the independence of the judiciary and dispensing of justice.
Hanzi who gave a legal analysis of the proposed Bill said the current process outlined by the constitution was better than the suggested amendments because it provided real checks and balances.
“At the moment, the President must choose the Chief Justice from three candidates selected from a public process on merit,” the human rights lawyer said, indicating that in the proposed amendments the President will have an unhealthily wide discretion.
In the proposed amendment, the President will only consult the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) without being bound by its views.
“There are public interests at stake in protecting the independence of the judiciary,” she said.
“We should remember that the constitutional court is the one which hears most cases that have to do with human rights.”
If the proposed change is not stopped, the ZLHR director said that could soon open a “floodgate” of amendments from the government targeting the new Constitution.
Hanzi said the senior judges were also responsible for the allocation of cases, saying that there has been an appearance that some of the politically sensitive cases have always been given to particular judges.
The human rights lawyer indicated that the senior judges had the prerogative to appoint judges in lower courts, too.
“If the President picks the Chief Justice and Judge President of his choice alone it will affect the balance of justice and work in favour of his party,” she warned.
“This is because the Chief Justice has to decide on cases challenging the election of the President.
“The judge president is the one who is supposed to be allocating cases.
“The Chief Justice is the one who appoints judges to the electoral court without consulting.”
Sharing his views after the meeting, ZimRights Director Okay Machisa said: “There is no doubt that the issues of appointment of people who leads our courts has a bearing on human rights protection in the country.
“There is, therefore, need for that appointment process to be more transparency and not dependent on the president alone.
“This is because the judiciary is another independent arm of the government.”