At least 2000 criminal suspects are roaming the streets scot free as their appeals could not be dealt with timeously due to shortage of transcribers and poor recording equipment, a development that is compromising the justice delivery system.
The protracted delays have resulted in the suspects, among them carjackers, rapists, armed robbers and fraudsters, continuing with their criminal activities while others have since breached their bail conditions and disappeared.
In an interview yesterday, the Judicial Service Commission deputy secretary, Mr Rex Shana, said the High Court is sitting on 2000 appeal cases while the Supreme Court has 122 cases.
He lamented the huge backlog citing combination of factors.
"We have a shortage of transcribers as recruitment of staff has been frozen by the Government," said Mr Shana.
"We have 16 vacant posts but there is nothing we can do because the Government does not have money. According to their experience, normally for one to do correctly without any mistakes, each transcriber must type 10 to 12 pages per day hence them being few and doing a tiring job, backlog is likely to occur."
Mr Shana said the recording machinery was also very old, with very poor sound quality and transcribers had to strain their ears hard to listen to the evidence.
"They need to listen very carefully and type all what would have been said in court, that is the whole trial therefore quite a lot of delays occurs here," he said.
Mr Shana said new recording and transcription equipment were urgently needed to speed up the process.
He said of all the 14 courts at the High Court, only seven have better equipment which were donated by the United Nations Development Programme in 2008.
Mr Shana said about US$290 000 was required to buy new recording machines for all the 14 courts from abroad as the kind of equipment which they use cannot be manufactured locally.
He added that preparation of records is very expensive.
"There is this assumption that it is for free, however, a lengthy record of the whole trial may cost approximately US$2 000 which has to be forked out by the accused for its preparation. However, a matter is only heard after the record is ready," said Mr Shana.
He said the High Court can only deal with appeals only on Thursday, with only about a maximum of 12 per week yet there are thousands of pending cases.
"Judges have other things on their schedules and they can not deal with appeals only. So if we have for example 1 500 appeals and we deal with only 12 per week, there will be a problem," he said.
Last year, police confirmed that hardcore criminals released from Harare jails were believed to be committing armed robberies and carjackings.
Some of these criminals were reportedly released on bail, bail pending appeal and others were said to have completed their sentences.