27 June 2012

Zimbabwe: LSZ Tackles Political Bias in Justice System

PRESIDENT of the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ), Tinoziva Bere, has urged the police to stop partisan policing as allegations of corruption in the justice system persist.

In an interview with The Financial Gazette, Bere said his organisation wished for a corruption-free justice system and the respect of human rights in the country, noting that presently the justice system in the country was slow and has too many unjust laws that have resulted in the persecution of victims of political violence.

"There are far too many unjust laws, which the courts do not seem to strike down despite the powers they wield. The system is slow and sometimes seen as complicit in persecution of victims of the State or arms of the State . . .We would wish to see the system become more human rights sensitive. We wish to see an end to partisan police conduct," he said.

Bere's comments come amid an outcry from different sectors of the country bemo-aning the state of the justice system in the country. The outcry intensified this year as the Deputy Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Obert Gutu lambasted the judiciary at a Southern African Develop-ment Community meeting in Pretoria at the beginning of the year.

Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku and Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs Patrick Chinamasa also had a go at the justice system in the country two months ago while launching the judicial Code of Ethics in Harare.

Gutu this week also blamed corruption on the low remuneration that public office bearers get.

But Bere said while there was justification in concerns about corruption in the justice delivery system, it was not confined to the judiciary alone.

"It is the whole administration of justice chain. Corruption of the administration of justice system is present amo-ng some police officers (the most visible ones being the Traffic Section), some prosecutors (or Attorney General staff), some judicial support staff members, some judicial officers themselves (magistrates and judges), some lawyers (including very senior ones) and some prison officers," he said.

Bere charged that there are similar problems in quasi-judicial bodies such as labour dispute resolution mechanism, local authorities, mining commissioner's office, government licensing authorities and all public offices that make quasi judicial decisions.

"Even land allocations do not escape the poison. The rot is not confined to administration of justice. Our society is rotting and political patronage is corruption," said the firebrand lawyer.

He said the LSZ has received complaints of "very senior lawyers" whose sole practice now hinge on patronage and corrupting of judges. Bere warned that "the poison of corrupt deeds affects the whole justice system and damages irreparably the public confidence in rule of law".

He, however, urged people not to carelessly label everyone in the justice delivery system as corrupt saying there are some who strive to maintain a clean record.

Bere said the LSZ has engaged the police force with the view of ending harassment of lawyers and interference by police officers. The LSZ is also seeking ways to end the proliferation of offices run by deregistered or unregistered lawyers as well as fraudsters masquerading as lawyers and measures to end corruption in the administration of justice chain.

"We also wish to see the Attorney General use more of his power and decline malicious prosecutions. He can and is encouraged to stop unnecessary opposition to bail and invocation of section 121 of the Criminal Procedure and Evide-nce Act.

"This is because the appeals rarely succeed so why keep appealing.

"He used this power recently on the planned prosecution of many Members of Parlia-ment. In our view, long postponement of or reservation of rulings in urgent bail applications and appeals should be reserved for exceptional cases, and not be frequent.

"Courts should hesitate before committing accused persons who are on remand to the country's crowded, filthy and inhuman jails," charged Bere.

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