Judge bemoans slowing pace of justice

MUTARE - High Court judge Justice Charles Hungwe has bemoaned delays in criminal trials, saying it was wearing away public confidence in the country’s criminal justice delivery system.

Officially opening the 2014 legal year of the Mutare Circuit yesterday, Hungwe said criminal cases were increasing. He said delays in their completions “may be responsible for increasing community disillusionment with the justice system and decreasing satisfaction with the law.

“The vast majority of these cases are resolved through a finding of guilty (plea or verdict)... the bulk of these cases are dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court,” he said.

“An element of delay in the finalisation of the matter begins to creep in as soon as a suspect is arrested.”

Justice Hungwe said delays had a negative impact on both accused and aggrieved parties.

“Delay affects everyone, the accused who might or might not be guilty, the victims and their family who have been aggrieved by the offences against them, and the community who demand justice, safety and protection,” Hungwe said.

“Delay in the criminal trial system may result in adverse effects, not the least of which is the anguish endured by the victims of crime and their families, and the community demanding protection from criminal offenders.”

He noted that the delays were also costing the courts more than they ordinarily should.

“Matters that fail to proceed as scheduled contribute to backlog and delay, both of which consume significant criminal justice resources,” Hungwe said.

The High Court judge said a criminal trial affords protection to both the accused and aggrieved persons.

“The trial affords protections for the accused so that any case against them is fair and proved beyond reasonable doubt. Similarly, the trial affords protection for the community to ensure that criminal offenders against whom there is sufficient evidence are convicted and sentenced,” he said.

Justice Hungwe identified four key areas in the justice delivery system that needed to be improved to limit trial finalisation delays.

Underlying most delays, Justice Hungwe said, were poor preparations before trial commences, fewer incentives for early disposition of cases and disconnection of witnesses or victims during the trial preparation process.

Justice Hungwe said: “In my view, in order to improve trial delay, there is need for renewed commitment to the development of innovative methods for addressing the four key priority areas which may be broadly identified as follows: improving the quantity, quality, and timeliness of information sharing and communication between the investigating authorities, prosecution, defence and the court; promoting earlier discussion and consideration of a guilty plea with the defendant, including the improvement of incentives for early guilty pleas and disincentives for non-cooperating counsel;

“Improving certainty in set-down; and improving services for victims and witnesses and encouraging greater satisfaction and participation in the criminal trial process.”

The High Court judge said previous efforts had been mostly limited on “front ending the criminal trial procedure so that each of the key parties is obliged to prepare a criminal trial well in advance of the trial date especially in circuit courts.”

“There is need to continually review and refine our processes in the hope that eventually we can muster the essential ingredients which guarantee and are essential to the success of improving the early preparation and finalisation of criminal trials”, Justice Hungwe said.

Comments (1)

Justice delayed is justice denied in both criminal and civil cases. Children cases are taking rather long may be our courts wants to attend them when the damaged is already done and only get urgent when they are criminals demanding bail. Judges will never fairness. Please change your rules.

WeZhira - 26 February 2014

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