Magistrates To Be Removed From Civil Service

According to Vertitas Bill Watch, the Judicial Service Act (passed by Parliament in 2006) will come into force on Friday 18th June, when a statutory instrument fixing that date as the date of commencement of the Act will be gazetted. 

“The principal practical effect of this will be that magistrates and the support staff for all courts will no longer fall under the Public Service Commission and will in future be appointed and administered by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).  In principle this is an important step towards establishing the independence of the magistracy from control and influence of the Executive.”

The JSC will also be responsible for managing the funds allocated to the Judicial Service by Parliament.  It will make regulations setting out the conditions of service of magistrates, but the regulations will require the approval of the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs before being gazetted as law. Funding will still depend on appropriations made by Parliament, and like all public money JSC funds will be subject to the ultimate control of the Ministry of Finance.

It is to be hoped that these changes will contribute to bringing about an environment in which magistrates feel free to exercise their judicial functions without fear or favour. 

“But paper changes need to be backed up by the promotion in all sectors of society of respect for the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.  It is difficult for judicial officers to feel confidence in their position when senior politicians openly urge people to disregard court orders and the government fails to honour court decisions,” noted Bill Watch.

Presiding officers of customary courts will not form part of the new Judicial Service nor will the customary courts be administered by the Judicial Service Commission.

Meanwhile the long-delayed constitution outreach to ascertain what the people want in the new constitution is due to be launched on Wednesday, despite last-minute threats by some members of Parliament to boycott the outreach over inadequate daily allowances. 

The late start means that the process may have to be interrupted to allow Parliament to sit to pass priority Bills, in which case it will take longer than the 65 days originally planned.  Parliamentary Standing Orders permit the recall of the Senate and the House of Assembly during an adjournment if that becomes necessary to deal with urgent business.

The Senate  meets on Tuesday after a break of over three months, during which it was believed the constitution outreach process would be completed. With the outreach only due to start after the launch on Wednesday, the Senate is almost certain to adjourn for another lengthy period to allow Senators to play their role.

The only items on the agenda were partly-debated motions carried forward from March.  These included debates on access to clean water; climate change; and home-based care programmes for those on anti-retroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS.

Meetings of House of Assembly Portfolio Committees and Senate Thematic Committees had been suspended with effect from Monday.

Although the Houses had not been sitting for three months, portfolio and thematic committees have been meeting throughout the period and doing a great deal of work.  Reports on that work will be tabled and debated in the House of Assembly and the Senate in due course.  Normally such reports only become publicly available once tabled. 

“It would be regrettable if tabling is going to be delayed because of the forthcoming adjournments.  Veritas is urging Committee chairpersons to table reports that have been finalised on the days the Senate and House of Assembly meet briefly before adjourning for the constitution outreach,” Bill Watch said.

Meanwhile the Government work plan, agreed several months ago, provided for the passage of more than 20 Bills by year-end, of which 10 were regarded as priority Bills.  In his capacity as leader of government business in Parliament, the Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai will next week meet the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs and chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Legislation, Patrick Chinamasa to discuss when Bills will be ready for Parliament.  The following week he will meet the House of Assembly and Senate Business Committees to plan a programme of sittings to deal with Bills.  Depending on priority Bills becoming available, it could be decided that the constitution outreach will have to be interrupted for a short period or periods to allow such Bills to be dealt with.