THE Judicial Service Commission (JSC) is grappling with a shortage of magistrates with 40 vacancies countrywide still to be filled, a situation that could compromise justice delivery.Zimbabwe requires 250 magistrates but it has only 210.
JSC Deputy Secretary Mr Rex Shana said last week that the shortage was a result of a general recruitment freeze by Government.
"The freeze was instituted by former Finance Minister Tendai Biti during the life of the inclusive Government (2009-2013) and is yet to be formally lifted.
"The general employment freeze by the Government does not allow us to employ more staff and it affects all Government ministries and departments. The green light to employ comes from the Ministry of Finance and if there is a freeze nothing is done in terms of recruitment," said Mr Shana.
The Chief Magistrate's office is losing staff through resignations, death and retirement but is unable to recruit. Sources said the available magistrates were working under pressure due to the increased workload.
Chief Magistrate Mr Mishrod Guvamombe is on record saying the few magistrates on the bench were doing their best under difficult conditions.
"We are working very hard with the available staff. Considering our limited numbers, I can safely say we are on top of the situation.
"Our efficiency would improve if the vacant posts are filled up," Mr Guvamombe told The Herald recently.
The resignation of magistrates has been linked to poor remuneration. The Harare and Chitungwiza magistrates' courts are operating with a shortage of three magistrates each while there are five vacancies in Bulawayo. For Chitungwiza, the only regional magistrate - Ms Esthere Chivasa -is on leave and one magistrate from Harare, Mr Clever Tsikwa, travels to the town to preside over regional cases weekly.