Judges cry foul

HARARE - ZIMBABWEAN judicial workers and senior court officials have lamented poor remuneration in the sector, which has been exacerbated by the recent and “unilateral” slashing of their perks.

This comes as the country faces a potential crisis in civil servant strikes, which are likely to affect schools reopening this week.

Although judges and other senior officials are disbarred from industrial actions, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku yesterday told the official opening of the 2014 legal year that problems enunciated before still persist.

"These include severe under-funding and unattractive conditions of service for all members of the Judicial Service as well as unfulfilled conditions of service for all judges,” he said, suggesting the move to halve perks was unprecedented.

“We have on other occasions pointed out that it is unconstitutional to reduce the conditions of service for judges, while they are still in office," Chidyausiku said.

“This serious breach of the Constitution persists to this date but, we remain hopeful that our concerns shall be addressed as soon as the fiscal space allows.”

The function is normally attended by lawyers, judges, magistrates and other law officers.

While President Robert Mugabe’s government has been paying monthly skills-retention allowances of between $150 and $400 to magistrates and other law officers, the cash-strapped administration has recently slashed allowances for the same group in more than 10 ministries.

However, Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa claimed he was hearing the judicial sector’s concerns for the first time.

“That’s general (the) law that you don’t reduce salaries of civil servants," he told reporters on the sidelines of the legal year event.

"I heard him (Chidyausiku)… (and) l need to look at what actually happened. I have not been aware. We have just been hearing him say so now. I was not aware about the issue,” the trained lawyer and Zanu PF legal supremo said.

Crucially, Mnangagwa said he was moving in to stamp out corruption in the ministry and sector, claiming at least four judicial members have already been arrested for various misdemeanours.

“You realise that corruption is not restricted to any particular class or category of persons. It is across the board and we must all in our areas of mandate fight it," the ex-Defence minister said.

“I will do my best and have already begun auditing throughout the justice delivery system (and) in order to bring to book those elements … In fact, last week we arrested some in the ministry and we continue to do so as the audit team goes around, doing books… prisons and so on,” he said, adding they will leave “no stone unturned” in their quest to deal with that scourge.

Meanwhile, Chidyausiku said the courts would continue to work to clear the massive backlog of cases – a view or statement that also resonates with the Law Society of Zimbabwe’s objectives for this year.

“…the success story that has been written in the Magistrates’ Court would not have been possible without… cooperation from the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the office of the National Prosecuting Authority and the Prisons, and Correctional Services," the experienced judge said.

“Despite limited resources, as a sector, the justice delivery sector performed beyond my expectations,” he added.

For instance, Mishrod Guvamombe’s courts managed to handle 85 008 criminal cases and trials against an inflow of 82 383 cases for the year.

“What makes this achievement commendable is that it was achieved against a backdrop of reduced manning levels and unimproved conditions of service for our magistrates,” Chidyausiku said.

Although the magistracy has also been affected by the government’s recruitment freeze, imposed by the treasury for the past three years, this sub-sector had managed to deal with the glut of cases with only 208 – out of a potential 250 magistrates.

On the High, Labour and Supreme courts, Chidyausiku said they had also performed “fairly well due to the new appointment of new judges” and personnel.

He, however, reserved judgement on the performance of the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) on the grounds that a comparative analysis was difficult for since the court only came into existence last year.

In the meantime, the ConCourt was only set up in May last year and under the terms of the new Constitution.

 

Comments (1)

'You do not reduce salaries of civil servants', Munangagwa said. I have problems with this statement: First, the judicial personnel are NOT civil servants. They extricated themselves from civil servants status some few years back, arguing that it would enable the government to review their salaries without necessarily reviewing salaries of all other civil servants. That was done, and they cannot now argue that they are civil servants when they vehemently caused themselves to be separated. Secondly, allowances are NOT salaries, that is why they are known as allowances, and Chidyavusiku must know that, and I think that is why he referred to it as 'conditions service'. Lastly, there is nothing special about these magistrates, judges and prosecutors. They are just human beings like others. And hence, we must not try to create some sentiments of 'group cult status' for these people. Law is not different from Accounting, Economics and History. So please, treat them like any other government employee, and don't try to want to create some non existing special cases for these judicial personnel. After all it is likely that most of them do not have mathematics at 'O' level, if not at grade seven. So what is special about them that is not special about a doctor at Parirenyatwa?

Danai Pazvagozha - 15 January 2014

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