Judges must be apolitical: Mtetwa

HARARE - Prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa has said judges must by all means avoid playing to the whims of politicians as this defies the separation of powers principle provided for in the Constitution.

Her sentiments come at a time the Executive is seeking to amend the Constitution to allow President Robert Mugabe to have the sole power to appoint the Chief Justice (CJ) — a development that has been linked to Zanu PF factional and succession fights.

Speaking to the Daily News in an exclusive interview yesterday, Mtetwa said the Constitution stated very clearly that judges must not meddle in politics.

“This is right across the board, you find lawyers that are openly factional, ... judges that are also openly aligning themselves with political players and ... that really is a very sad development, particularly given the attempt at ensuring that there is full separation between all three arms of government (Executive, Judiciary and the Legislature),” she said.

“I think we just could have a whole lot less political interference within the Judiciary and I wish judges would stop aligning themselves with the members of the Executive,” Mtetwa said.

She said that is why she took part in a Supreme Court appeal challenging High Court judge Charles Hungwe’s ruling that wanted to do away with the holding of public interviews to select out-going CJ Godfrey Chidyausiku’s successor. Chidyausiku leaves the bench at the end of this month after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.

“I would really like the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to ensure that there is true separation, that there is no overlap and that judicial officers are left to do their work without interference,” Mtetwa said.

She said the country is seeing gains in terms of the improvement of the rule of law because of the coming in of the new Constitution, as compared to what it was 15 years ago.

“This is why some of us were extremely concerned by the haste with which members of the Executive were starting to tinker with the Constitution. With the new appointment procedure for judges, we believe this was also meant to enhance rule of law issues, because if judges are picked transparently from a pool of lawyers, they are unlikely to be beholden to the appointing authority because they would not have been chosen through some secret non-transparent way,” Mtetwa said.

She added that “if a person has gone through a public interview, my view is that they are more likely to be independent and that would enhance the rule of law and improve the country’s ranking on the rule of law index”.

Mtetwa said if people allow the Constitution to be changed willy-nilly, it will open a floodgate of alterations of other legislation with dire consequences.

The Supreme Court set aside Hungwe’s decision, legalising the public interviews that were held late last year, after ruling that the Executive’s plans to amend the law did not in itself nullify the Constitution.

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