Judges clamour for better perks

HARARE - Zimbabwe's senior judicial officers, including judges, magistrates and prosecutors, are clamouring for higher salaries and benefits.

The call for better salaries was made by Chief Justice Luke Malaba — who is the head of the judicial system — as he opened the 2018 legal year in Harare yesterday.

Malaba said judicial officers were currently working with low inspiration as their low salaries have not been reviewed in a long time.

“The Judiciary, like all other sectors of government, was not spared from the economic challenges the country was generally facing.

“Resources were scarce and budgetary support from Treasury was at the barest minimal.

“We can only hope that there will be significant improvement in the coming financial year,” said Malaba as he gave a review of the 2017 legal year.

“The salaries of magistrates are still not commensurate with the important judicial positions they hold.

“It is accepted that low salaries cannot be a justification for lack of judicial integrity, but payment of a living wage can go a long way towards enhancing that integrity.

“Might I also add my voice to the call to review conditions of service for all members of staff in the judicial service as this would not only cushion them from financial hardships, but also boost their morale in the workplace.”

He also bemoaned the shortage of magistrates in the lower courts, saying it was the main reason behind a huge backlog of cases.

“The recruitment freeze imposed by the Treasury on all publicly funded institutions resulted in a severe shortage of manpower across all grades in the judicial service.

“There is a critical shortage of magistrates, which is threatening to paralyse operations in that court,” he said.

Malaba disclosed that the country requires a total of 250 magistrates but currently has just 191, leaving 59 vacant posts.

He called on government to allow special waiver in this field so that there could be smooth delivery of justice.

“This has resulted in the closure of courtrooms at some stations. We thus plead with Treasury to grant the Judicial Service Commission permission to

recruit magistrates to ensure that the lower courts do not go to back to the era where the backlog of cases was uncontrollable.

“The situation of scarcity of magistrates is becoming desperate. I hope the desired interventions will be made sooner rather than later,” he said.

Malaba also disclosed an odd scenario where the 191 magistrates have had to attend to clear a mammoth backlog of 171 370 cases last year.

The current backlog stands at 3 714 cases.

“The backlog betrays the gravity of the problem that has beset the magistracy,” Malaba said.

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