'Army, police new public prosecutors'

HARARE - Zimbabwe is undergoing systematic militarisation of the public prosecution department, deputy minister of Justice and Legal Affairs has told the 7th annual Africa Prosecutors Association conference.
Obert Gutu, the deputy minister of Justice and Legal Affairs said in a keynote address at the Africa Prosecutors Association annual general meeting in Windhoek, Namibia, that police officers as well as army and prison service officials have been stuffed into the public prosecution department to prosecute the massive backlog of cases.

“In Zimbabwe, we have a rather disturbing situation where members of the uniformed forces such as the police and the army, are appointed as public prosecutors,” Gutu said on Monday.

“This is a very unhealthy state of affairs because there can be no prosecutorial independence when the whole institution of prosecution is militarised.

Wherever possible, all prosecutors in civilian courts should be civilians themselves.”

Gutu claimed that of the 200 public prosecutors in the country, 125 are from the police, six are prison officers and five are soldiers.

Civilian prosecutors are shunning the job because of appalling remuneration, leaving government to look within its own ranks, he said.

Gutu said African Union guidelines encourage states to ensure reasonable conditions of service of prosecutors, adequate remuneration and, where applicable, tenure, housing, transport, conditions of physical and social security, pension and age of retirement and other conditions of service.

“Let me hasten to say that in most African countries remuneration commensurate with the crucial role played by prosecutors could go a long way in combating corruption in our justice delivery systems,” he said.

“Corruption is a cancer that is threatening to tear to shreds, the whole fabric of society; including but not limited to the justice delivery system. Prosecutors should exercise the highest standard of professionalism and integrity. Put simply, prosecutors should shun corruption in all its manner of manifestation.”

Gutu told the indaba that the question of autonomy of prosecutors was paramount.

“International and regional law does not contain a provision that guarantees the institutional independence of prosecutors,” he said.

“This may be due to the fact that countries have different systems of prosecution.”

Zimbabwe’s Parliament recently considered a Bill to establish the Attorney General’s Office Board to constitute the AG’s office as a service outside the public service and to provide for the
administration of the office and conditions of service of its members.

Also, the draft constitution which will soon be tabled for discussion at the Second All-Stakeholders’ Conference also provides for a National Prosecuting Authority.

Gutu said: “We have come to realise that an independent prosecutorial authority is necessary to ensure that prosecutors carry out their professional functions impartially and objectively.

“Though the basic roles and functions of prosecutors vary considerably among legal systems and the extent of their power and authority vary considerably among states, autonomy and independence from other branches of government is indeed a giant step toward guaranteeing the independence of prosecutors.” - Gift Phiri

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