Zimbabwe: JSC Backs Judges Bill

21 February 2020

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) secretariat yesterday threw its weight behind the Constitutional Amendment Bill which provides for the extension of the retirement age of judges from 70 to 75.

High Court judges have, however, implored Parliament to ensure the provision applies to all judges.

This was said by acting JSC secretary Mr Walter Chikwana while giving oral evidence before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs chaired by Makoni South MP, Cde Misheck Mataranyika (Zanu PF).

Mr Chikwana said fixing the retirement age of judges at 75 was in line with several constitutional democracies, including the United States.

"As JSC, we are in support of the position because this provision is not something new, it is not a new creation being done by the people of Zimbabwe. It is found in various constitutional democracies even in the United States of America which some of us consider as having the best democracy in the world.

"Judges there are appointed for life. There is nothing strange that a judge's tenure is extended to 75 and judges are like wine, they get better with age, they get wiser with age. The more experienced that judge is, the better he is in his propagation and application of the law and in the development of jurisprudence of a country," said Mr Chikwana.

Mr Chikwana, however, said the relevant clause should be amended so that it also applies to High Court, Labour Court and Administrative Court judges.

"The High Court is arguing that the retirement age of judges should be uniform. You cannot say you are retiring at 70 and you want Supreme Court judges and Constitutional Court judges to retire at 75. That is their argument.

"The High Court judges are not objecting to retiring at 75, but are concerned on the issue of consistency, that you pick the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court and you leave others out. They are all judges," said Mr Chikwana.

He said upon extension of retirement age to 75, judges should not be subjected to one year contracts as doing so will undermine their independence as they might be compromised when they handle cases that might involve the JSC or the Executive.

"If you put them on a one year contract, a judge might end up working for his contract. During the course of that year, he might want to make the JSC or the Executive happy because he wants to renew his contract. So we are stifling or violating the independence of that judge as an individual.

"The JSC is a legal persona, we appear in court where we are sued or sue and we win or lose cases, when we appear we do it because we genuinely believe we are right, but when we appear before a judge and a judge makes a different conclusion, as a litigant we might feel aggrieved like anybody else that we have lost, so we are stifling that judge to say this is a matter involving JSC, what will they think when I am up for renewal," said Mr Chikwana.

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