By Professor Matodzi
Harare, January 13, 2014 – Zimbabwe’s Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku has heaped praise on the country’s judicial officers for working flat out to clear the backlog of cases at the country’s lower courts.
Chidyausiku showered tributes to the country’s Magistrates for reducing the case backlogs despite working under poor conditions.
The Chief Justice made the remarks Monday during a ceremony held at the Constitutional Court to mark the official opening of the legal year, an occasion which he said presents an opportunity to introspect and review the performance of the judicial sector and courts during the preceding year.
“I am happy to report that the Magistrates’ Courts across the whole country have now completely eradicated the backlog that had become a characteristic of that court for years. The Magistrates’ Courts are now current and further like the Supreme Court, exhibit the capacity to deal with all these cases that are brought to that court in the course of the year,” said Chidyausiku.
During the course of 2013, Chidyausiku said, the Magistrates’ Courts completed a total of 85 008 criminal trials against an inflow of 82 383 cases for the whole year. The other 2 613 cases were from the cases that had been bought forward from 2012.
Such an achievement, the head of the judiciary said was commendable as it was attained against a backdrop of reduced manning levels and un-improved conditions of service for Magistrates.
“The magistracy like all other categories of staff in the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) have been affected by the recruitment freeze imposed by Treasury for the past three years since the JSC took over the administration of the courts,” Chidyausiku said.
In 2012, the Magistrates Court reduced the backlog from 45 000 to 10 000.
Out of a total establishment of 250 Magistrates, the JSC has been coping with 208 Magistrates, five of whom are on secondment to various posts within the JSC and are not presiding over cases in courts.
The JSC boss also protested against the Civil Service Commission’s decision to stop paying a retention allowance to Magistrates which he said had the net effect of reversing the gains that had been made in reducing the backlog in the Magistrates’ Court.
Chidyausiku also praised the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service and the National Prosecuting Authority for their dedication to duty which he said has managed to turnaround the operations of the country’s lower courts.
The Chief Justice, who expressed his wish for an improvement in the “fortunes” of the country, once again bemoaned the unattractive conditions of service for all members of the JSC, unfulfilled conditions of service for judges and severe underfunding.
Zimbabwean judges have for long protested about poor working conditions, poor salaries, poor apparel, old computers, and outdated library and even went to the shocking extent of demanding to be supplied with suits, shirts, blouses and shoes to give a face lift to their dressing.