Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku on Monday came short of naming four “lazy” Harare High Court judges, but castigated them for sitting on cases with some running for a whole year.
Yet, Justice Chidyausiku said, only two were complicated cases.
Addressing guests that included Acting President and Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa during the official opening of the 2015 legal year, Justice Chidyausiku urged the “lazy” judges not to hide behind a constitutional provision that protects them from being removed from office.
He said the four judges whom he, however, declined to name, had completed 33 judgments last year while Harare High Court judge Justice Nicholas Mathonsi had single-handedly handed down 72 judgments over the same period.
“While I believe that judicial officers are entitled to decent conditions of service and must demand these as a right, I equally believe that judicial officers must earn their conditions of service,” Justice Chidyausiku said.
“Constitutional provisions that protect judges from removal from office, while necessary to safeguard the independence of judges, should not be a cloak behind which to hide inefficiency and underperformance by judicial officers.”
He added: “I must confess that the reports for 2014 have left me with mixed feelings regarding the performance of judges at the Harare High Court. As I have said earlier, some judges at the Harare High Court performed extremely well and I am more than pleased with their performance.
“In this regard, let me mention Justice Mathonsi who, in the course of the year, wrote and handed down an impressive 72 judgments. His industry is revealed in its true dimensions if it is compared to the output of the least performing four judges, who had two, three, six and 11 judgments respectively for the whole year.”
He said: “The four of them wrote and delivered 33 judgments all in all for the year 2014, less than half what Justice Mathonsi handed down. The four Justices and Justice Mathonsi operate in the same environment and are subject to the same limited and unattractive conditions of service.”
Justice Chidyausiku also praised Justice Charles Hungwe as the fifth top performer at the High Court saying: “This is a remarkable turnaround, because over the years Justice Hungwe’s performance had been a cause for concern. He and I had conversations over the issue. I am delighted that the conversations have had a positive outcome. Keep it up, judge.”
He also singled out the performance of Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Nokuthula Moyo as the top performer saying she handed down 56 judgments in 2014. He commended Justices Andrew Mutema, Priscilla Chigumba and Loice Matanda-Moyo for keeping the High Court backlogs under check.
However, the Chief Justice raised concerns over the performance of Gweru High Court which he said after the transfer of Justice Maxwell Takuva to the Bulawayo bench, “the backlog has risen and continues to rise steadily as it now stands in excess of 200 cases”.
Turning to the performance of the magistrates’ courts, Justice Chidyausiku said he was impressed with the way Chief Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe had managed to reduce the backlog in the magistrates’ court from 49 000 cases to 2 000 without any increase in the number of magistrates.
Turning to the issue of conditions of service of the judicial officers and supporting staff, Justice Chidyausiku pleaded with “the powers-that-be” to assist the Judiciary Service Commission to curb corruption by improving the conditions of service of all judges, magistrates, supporting staff, the police, prisons and prosecutors alike.