Chief Justice Bill to be tabled today

HARARE - Lawmakers will start debating the proposed Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 1) Bill today, days after President Robert Mugabe’s appointment of Justice Luke Malaba as Chief Justice of Zimbabwe.

This comes as Malaba is set to take judicial oath today.

The proposed bill seeks to restore sweeping powers to the president to singularly appoint the Chief Justice.

After undergoing tough 11 day-long public hearings across the country where it was roundly rejected, the National Assembly will subject the Bill to its first reading today during an extraordinary session.

Both houses are taking a three-week long recess today in the afternoon just after the bill’s first reading.

The bill was first published by Speaker of National Assembly Jacob Mudenda by notice in a Government Gazette on January 3.

Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, in his capacity as Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister, gave notice of his intention to present the bill in the National Assembly yesterday, just over 90 days — as required — after its gazetting.

Parliamentary watchdog, Veritas, said yesterday the clear intent of the bill was to ensure that its new procedure for filling vacancies in the post of Chief Justice would be applicable to the vacancy that no longer exists – the vacancy that was imminent when the bill was drafted and gazetted and later became a reality when Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku retired at the end of February.

Clause 6(1) of the bill proposes a new procedure for appointing three senior judges — omitting the Constitution’s existing provision for public interviews and recommendations from the Judicial Service Commission, and allowing the president to disregard advice from the commission.

While Malaba’s appointment has created a vacancy in his former post of Deputy Chief Justice, which is one of the three senior judicial posts the bill seeks to affect, nowhere in the bill is there an attempt to apply the new procedure to a Deputy Chief Justice vacancy arising before the bill becomes law.

“President Robert Mugabe has followed the correct constitutional course in appointing Chief Justice Malaba in accordance with the existing constitutional procedure,” Veritas said in a commentary.

“And it is to be hoped that he intends to appoint a new Deputy Chief Justice in terms of same procedure — JSC advertisement, JSC public interviews and all. 

“Indeed, now that ...Mugabe has set an example of constitutionalism in making one appointment, there may be cause to hope that his government will go further and withdraw the bill.”

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