By Professor Matodzi
Harare, 12 January, 2016 – Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku has once again elected to keep the identities of underperforming High Court judges who have clogged the justice delivery system with unprocessed cases.
Last year, Chidyausiku criticised four unnamed High Court judges whom he labelled as “lazy” for sitting on cases with some running for a whole year.
The Chief Justice said the four had completed 33 judgments among themselves in 2014 while Harare High Court judge Nicholas Mathonsi, whom he singled out as best performer, had single-handedly handed down 72 judgments over the same period.
But on Monday, Chidyausiku once again refrained from naming and shaming the poorly performing judges.
This is despite his public protest last year that “lazy” judges were hiding behind a constitutional provision which protects them from being removed from office by their immediate supervisors.
“I regret to say Mr Attorney that as is to be found in any functional system, there are a few judges who may still need to introspect in light of the high performance by their colleagues generally,” Chidyausiku said in an address to mark the opening of the 2016 legal year.
The main ceremony, held in Harare, was also attended by Acting President and Justice Minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
“Whilst the judges have been doing their best to clear the cases that are filed with the High Court Registry, my attention has been brought to the number of files that are dormant or semi- dormant in the High Court.
“In a report to me, the Registrar of the High Court has indicated that there are more than forty- thousand records that have been dormant for three or more years. These are matters that were filed as way back as 2002 up to 2012 but are lying idle with no one prosecuting the claim or applying to have it dismissed.
“Twenty thousand of the records are summons of applications that have not been served on the defendants or respondents. Some people may not know that they have been sued and are part of the High Court statistic even as I speak.”
Nonetheless, the head of the judiciary also revealed that the performance of the High Court in 2015 exceeded his expectations as some of the judges had displayed “pleasing performance” as evidenced by the number of judgments that they returned during the course of the year.
“The number of judgments handed down has in turn drastically reduced the number of complaints that I used to receive over delayed judgments. Let us all accept that this is the normative standard of an effective justice delivery system,” Chidyausiku said.
On a positive note, Chidyausiku disclosed that the High Court had seen a marked drop in the backlog of cases pending before that court.
“Whereas at the beginning of 2015 the High Court had a backlog of 1 002 action matters, it closed the year with a reduced backlog of 504 cases. This translates to a 50 percent reduction in the backlog, a remarkable feat by all standards,” he said.
In 2015, the Chief Justice swore into office six new High Court judges who were considered to be best performers after interviews held in public in November in line with Zimbabwe’s new constitutional requirements and who have “hit the ground running”.
According to Chidyausiku, the number of matters filed with the Labour Court increased to 3 659 from 3 185 cases handled in 2014.
The Chief Justice disclosed that several Zimbabweans were increasingly approaching the Constitutional Court seeking to assert their rights as evidenced by the increased number of cases filed with the apex court.
In 2015, Chidyausiku said, a total of 101 applications were filed as compared to 79 filed in 2014 indicating a 28 percent increase.
The Chief Justice also bemoaned corruption in the justice delivery sector and implored all stakeholders including legal practitioners to work towards eradicating the scourge.
Zimbabwean judges have in recent years protested against poor working conditions and even demanded that the government supply them with suits and shoes to wear to work. Some of the new judges have also written to the Judicial Service Commission tasking their employer to demand allocation of farms.