16 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Byo High Court Overwhelmed

The High Court in the second city has been overwhelmed by cases, resulting in the slow disposal rate for criminal trials.

Judge president George Chiweshe, speaking during the official opening of the 2013 legal year for the Bulawayo High Court this week, said the disposal rate for criminal trials was far from satisfactory.

"Most cases do not take off because invariably key witnesses cannot be located," he said.

Only 19 criminal trials were completed last year at the Bulawayo High Court main station compared to the 54 at the Gweru and Hwange circuit courts. Seventy-four criminal trials were set down in 2012 compared to 72 in 2011. Of these only 19 were completed and 55 are pending.

"The reasons for this glaring discrepancy are not clear. The Registrar, the Attorney General's Office, the police and possibly prisons are urged to double their efforts to ensure that criminal investigations are timeously concluded and accused persons duly brought to trial," said Chiweshe.

He said delays in the completion of trials could lead to the disappearance of evidence while officers seized with investigations or trials may also retire, resign, be posted out or even die before completion of trial.

For example, senior Bulawayo High Court judge Nicholas Ndou who was dealing with the pending Mthwakazi Liberation Front treason trial resigned from the bench.

During the year under review, 519 divorce summons were issued, up from 406 in 2011. A total of 1152 chamber applications, an increase of 100 percent from 2011 were filed while 72 civil trials were set down.

By and large, the backlog of cases at the Bulawayo High Court had to do with civil matters.

Last year, a total of 325 bail applications were received, an increase of 319 over prior year figures. Of those applications, 134 were granted while 40 were dismissed.

Chiweshe said the main reason why the High Court is so inundated is because they have not created a structure that acts as an intermediate court between the High Court and Magistracy. While the regional magistrates presently fill that gap in so far as criminal cases are concerned, there has not been a corresponding arrangement on the civil side of the equation.

He said an appropriate legislation was required to address this anomaly.

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