Deputy Chief Justice race starts in earnest

HARARE - The race to fill the vacant post of Deputy Chief Justice is starting in earnest later this month, with prospective leadership candidates exploring possibilities and prospective support in what is expected to be a crowded race.

Luke Malaba’s promotion to become Chief Justice has set off a high-flyer leadership contest, with serious contenders exploring leadership bids that must come from the public just two months after the previous office holder was elevated.

The Daily News has it on good authority that the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), in accordance with the Constitution, will advertise the vacancy for the position of Deputy Chief Justice and will invite the public to nominate suitable candidates to fill the post as soon as Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs permanent secretary Virginia Mabhiza returns from her annual leave next week.

The acting permanent secretary Francis Gavi confirmed Mabhiza would be back at work tomorrow and referred all questions to her.

Legal experts are closely watching to see who the public shall decide are the serious contenders and who they get behind.

At this point, the prospective candidates are trying to measure support to see if they could be competitive.

Malaba filled the chief justice post left after the retirement of Godfrey Chidyausiku at the end of February last year.

Chidyausiku, now late, had reached the 70-year mandatory retirement age. 

The JSC, in accordance with convention, will proclaim the vacancy in press statements, asking the public to put forward duly qualified candidates for appointment as Zimbabwe’s next Deputy Chief Justice.

The nominations should be carefully scrutinised, including a thorough review of the records of all candidates.

The candidate must be at least 40-years-old, be a Zimbabwean citizen, either have been a judge of a court of unlimited civil or criminal jurisdiction in Zimbabwe or any country where the common law is Roman-Dutch, be currently and have been for at least 10 years, whether continuously or not, qualified to practice as a legal practitioner and be “a fit and proper person to hold office as a judge.”

Whoever is appointed Deputy Chief Justice must exude “competence, integrity and independence,” according to the Constitution.

The post is likely to be hard fought.

Insiders claim there is sense in government that the Chief Justice’s second-in-command must be picked from among the panel of judges, by seniority, which might be the right tonic toward improving the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court’s legitimacy.

Technically, potential assignees that have been seriously bandied about so far include the Judge President George Chiweshe and Rita Makarau, a Supreme Court judge and the first female Judge President of Zimbabwe; and war veteran and controversial High Court judge Justice Chinembiri Bhunu as the “wild card”.

Justice Charles Hungwe is being tipped for Judge President if Chiweshe is promoted.

The incoming Deputy CJ will help Malaba head the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court as well until 2023, according to the new Constitution.

By tradition, the Chief Justice and his deputy preside over the Supreme Court’s public proceedings, chair the Justices’ conferences, and assigns opinions in cases.

The Chief Justice and his second-in-command also oversee the Con-Court and Supreme Court’s administration and lobby on the top courts’ behalf on matters involving its docket and jurisdiction, according to legal documents.

The job also has a political nature, and has a key role in presidential impeachment motions and elections, which are often disputed here.

There are lingering concerns that some Zimbabwean judges are generally subject to political control.