60 magistrates urgently needed

HARARE - The courts are running short of magistrates, impacting negatively on the quality of judgments being delivered, chief magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe has said.

Speaking on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of the Mvuma Magistrates’ Courts on Wednesday, Guvamombe, said there is immediate need for the recruitment of more magistrates in order to improve the justice delivery system.

“There is greater need to increase the number of magistrates. The current magistrates are being overworked. They are doing in excess of 100 hours per month instead of 60 hours, which is the standard that I set,” Guvamombe said.

He said the country requires at least 250 magistrates. Currently, 21 are employed elsewhere in acting capacities and have not been replaced, while 41 more are needed, bringing the number to 62, which Guvamombe said is also not adequate.

Speaking at the same courts opening ceremony, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was the guest speaker, also reiterated that the number of magistrates was not adequate.

The Mvuma Magistrates’ Court is one of the 22 courthouses that were built across the country by the Judicial Service Commission with support from the Royal Danish Embassy.

“The new courthouses have also been built at a time that the workload of the magistrates’ courts is bound to increase significantly. The country is committed to the ease-of-doing-business reform agenda which, among other issues, requires the expeditious resolution of all commercial disputes, particularly at the magistrates’ court level.

“To achieve that, Cabinet has sanctioned the amendment of various pieces of legislation like the Magistrates Court Act and the Small Claims Court Act. This, however, cannot be achieved with the shortage of judicial officers obtaining in the country at the moment. This new courthouse for example, has two courtrooms but the station only has one magistrate.

“It is necessary therefore, that the number of magistrates be increased significantly to complement the efforts being made to improve the ease of doing business,” Mnangagwa said.

Echoing Mnangagwa’s sentiments, Guvamombe gave an example of the Harare Magistrates’ Courts, which he said houses 23 courtrooms, three of which are not working, because of the shortage of magistrates.

He also said that the increase in the number of courtrooms, translates to more workload for the magistrates.

“It demoralises and impacts on the quality of work as magistrates won’t have time to research on judgments,” Guvamombe said.

According to a report released by the National Prosecuting Authority in August, the magistrates’ courts have completed 75 percent of the total cases that were brought forward for hearing, despite the shortage of magistrates and other challenges including poor working conditions.

Critics say an unattractive salary does not encourage suitable persons to take up the magistracy and there are very little benefits for magistrates.

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