27 June 2014

Zimbabwe: JSC Neutrality At High Risk

editorial

IT was reported this week that the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) wants five judges who were recently appointed to the bench to be allocated farms.

The JSC has written to the Ministry of Lands to facilitate the allocation of land to the judges.

The five judges are joining a judiciary whose independence has been under scrutiny for well over a decade now.

Since 2000 the Zanu PF government stands accused of purging the judiciary and packing it with pliant judges. The state has handed out to judges gifts of land and various goods.

The acceptance of such gifts by these judges in the High Court and Supreme Court since 2001 set the tone for subsequent appointments and for the conduct of the overwhelming majority on the bench.

In August 2008, amid unprecedented conditions of economic collapse and hyper-inflation, government through the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe purchased and delivered luxury vehicles, plasma television sets and electricity generators to all judges. These were happily and unquestioningly received.

It is unfortunate that the new jurists are in the vortex of controversy which does not bode well with the quest to have an independent judiciary in the country.

While the acceptance of gifts may not immediately influence the conduct of the bench, it is trite to say that by receiving such gifts a perception is created that the judiciary's independence is profoundly compromised.

It also creates an impression that the JSC is not living up to its core value of independence from the executive and legislative arms of state.

The JSC says this about the quest for independence: "While working within its mandate, JSC resists any undue influence and interference and takes the appropriate steps to install independence as a core value of all members of the Judicial Service."

This cherished independence can be eroded if the judiciary approaches arms of the state looking for gifts, moreso considering the fact that the judiciary from time to time has to rule in cases involving the government agency responsible for the allocation of land.

This is not to say that judges should not own land. Assuming that the new judges have always wanted to be farmers, they should have approached the authorities in the prescribed way and not seek special treatment as they are doing now. That is an appropriate step to install independence.

Instead of approaching the Ministry of Lands to allocate farms to judges, the JSC should be agitating for the financial independence of the judges and the judicial system to ensure that men and women on the bench are not subject to institutional pressure.

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