Court sheriffs must be probed

HARARE - The office of the Sheriff of the High Court must be investigated for poor supervision which has resulted in messengers of court serving papers to defendants at wrong addresses.

A lot of people in Zimbabwe were not particularly surprised last week when the Con-Court threw out Promise Mkwananzi’s case after ruling that he had flouted proper procedure by lodging his application to the wrong address.

It turns out that court papers were delivered at New Government Complex instead of President Robert Mugabe’s offices at Munhumutapa Building.

And Mkwananzi’s lawyer, Kudzayi Kadzere, is justified in being apoplectic with fury as reported elsewhere in this edition.

Apparently, there had been warning signs even before the latest Con-Court fracas. Last year, High Court judge Justice Nicholas Mathonsi, sitting at the Bulawayo High Court, described the conduct by officials from the Sheriff of the High Court as “deplorable” and called for urgent action to reform the institution.

He had seen trouble coming.

To the uninitiated, once you file your case, you have to “serve” the court papers. It is not enough to call the person on the phone and tell him about the case. 

The court will need proof that he knows about the case. “Serving” is delivering court papers to the defendant that tell him who is taking him to court, what the case is about, court dates and when he needs to answer.

You serve a copy of the summons you got when you filed the case. The summons says who is taking the defendant to court, what the case is about, when the defendant needs to answer, and to whom he needs to answer. If you want to use the sheriff, usually for security reasons, you pay him. Now the person entrusted with this duty in this case, failed and submitted fake returns of service and false service to the courts even after being paid.

As noted by Justice Mathonsi, there must be concerted effort to nip the rot in the bud. Courts transact very serious business whose outcome affects the lives of members of the public as exemplified by #Tajamuka/Sesijikile leader Mkwananzi’s challenge

that President Robert Mugabe was violating Zimbabwe’s Constitution by violently breaking street protests.

Such bungling must, where proved, be severely punished in order to discourage those among the assistants of the sheriff who are lazy to deliver court papers thinking they can serve process by Bluetooth while sitting in their offices only to hoodwink the court by submitting fake returns.

The police powers of those “special deputies,” and what criteria government is using in selecting them — must be included in the investigation, at the behest of the High Court standards, which must be alarmed by concerns being raised about the deputies.

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