'Attack on Justice Hungwe unwarranted'

HARARE - Legal experts have slammed the unwarranted attack on High Court judge Charles Hungwe, who has been accused of dispensing night justice by the State-controlled media.

Experts told the Daily News that Hungwe did nothing wrong in granting human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa bail from his farm at night as he was the duty judge.

The said judges were empowered to preside over cases after working hours, during the night or at weekends.

University of Zimbabwe (UZ) law lecturer Greg Linnington said the attacks on Hungwe could have a negative effect on judges handling politically-sensitive matters as the country heads towards crunch polls.

“There is nothing wrong with a judge delivering a judgment at night,” Linnington said. “Courts have duty judges who can work during the weekend or after hours and it is perfectly normal for judges to hear appeals anytime.”

“This might be an attack that could influence judges in the future,” he said.

“The political interference is indicative to the problems we have had in Zimbabwe,” said Linnington.

Hungwe, a war veteran, has handled some politically sensitive cases, including okaying the search warrants sought by  the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) to search the offices of three top Zanu PF ministers suspected of underhand dealings.

However, that judgment was overturned by the same court after the two ministries headed by Savior Kasukuwere and Obert Mpofu appealed against the search warrant.

Lovemore Madhuku another constitutional law expert and UZ lecturer said Hungwe acted within the ambits of the law.

“Hearing the case at night was not unprocedural because the High Court does not mean a building, it can sit anywhere,” Madhuku said.  

“The fact that the other parties (from the Attorney General’s office) were not available is common because cases are not won by the presence of parties but by merit.”

Munyaradzi Gwisai, another law expert, said Hungwe’s decision to grant the defence team’s request for the release of Mtetwa should be viewed in the context of the lopsided application of justice delivery system in Zimbabwe.

“Strictly speaking there is nothing wrong with what the judge did,” said Gwisai, adding that “hounds” that do not want to see an impartial judiciary are up against Hungwe.

“The police have been overzealous; the protection of the independence of the judiciary is now under threat. If police act this way in a case involving such a powerful person as the former president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, then what about the poor, this is an important signal.

“These attacks are being led by those hounds who still want to see the selective application of the rule of law continue,” said Gwisai,  who described Hungwe’s judgment as brave.

The State-controlled media has resurrected a story of a man who has been languishing in remand prison for 15 years as the plot against Hungwe, who is the judge in the matter, thickens.

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