Corruption in the criminal justice system value chain is a violation of human rights and might lead to the erosion of public confidence in the whole system, thereby undermining the integrity of the administration of justice, Prosecutor General Justice Loyce Matanda-Moyo said yesterday
Public prosecutors and other stakeholders had a duty to uphold the rights of those they work with in the criminal justice system and avoid unnecessary postponement and remands in criminal cases.
Addressing prosecutors during a human rights training for public prosecutors held by the National Prosecuting Authority and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, named after a Swedish diplomat, Justice Matanda-Moyo said public prosecutors must be aware of the potential ramifications of human rights abuses in the criminal justice system and take steps to prevent them.
“Lately, there have been a number of reports of corruption, misconduct and unethical conduct by prosecutors,” she said.
“This is most unfortunate. Corruption by its very nature is a violation of someone’s rights.
“If a prosecutor receives money to do a favour for someone involved in the criminal justice value chain be it a witness, victim of crime or the accused person, that is a clear indication that someone’s rights have been violated already.”
Some public prosecutors were taking dereliction of duty as business as usual despite its impact on the rights of those that suffer the brunt of their actions.
“To some of us here coming to work late is not a big deal, and to others its simply misconduct that must be overlooked,” said Justice Matanda-Moyo.
“Not adequately preparing for your trials is also misconduct, but to some of you it’s nothing. On its own it might look harmless to some of you. But it has very catastrophic consequences.”
“Allow me to put it in context so that you may understand the gravity of some of these little habits of indiscipline. When a prosecutor postpones a matter that was set down for trial because they did not read the docket or follow up on an exhibit, or because they did not prepare submissions on time, or came to work late and thus was out of time to lead all the witnesses that had been called for that day, this means that the prosecutor is infringing on the accused’s right to a fair and speedy trial through an act of misconduct.
“The accused is forced to endure long periods of remand because the State is not ready. This is not acceptable. Remands will no longer be the norm but an exception. Let us respect accused person’s rights to a speedy trial.”
Justice Matanda-Moyo said the PG’s Office will handle cases professionally without looking at one’s standing in society.
“It is trite that in terms of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the NPAZ is mandated to combat crime and corruption through prosecution of all crimes,” she said. “We prosecute without fear, favour, bias or prejudice; and in this way we safeguard the criminal justice delivery system.
“The NPAZ is blind to political standing, race, tribe or religion and knows no discrimination. We are the champions of justice who are called upon to uphold the rule of law and protect the values of human dignity.”
Justice Matanda-Moyo said the authority’s work was in line with President Mnangagwa’s national vision as contained in the National Development Strategy 1.
“Our contribution towards this noble and progressive initiative by Government is in the area of governance and justice delivery. As we institute and undertake criminal prosecutions on behalf of the State we must be seen to be promoting a just and fair system for all those that we are mandated to serve as enshrined in the Constitution,” she said.
Prosecutors as custodians of human rights, she said, should ensure that the integrity of the criminal justice system is upheld through observing a fair trial for accused persons.
“The public’s trust in the system is eroded,” said Justice Matanda-Moyo.
“This can lead to reduced public confidence, an increase in crime and social unrest as citizens resort to self-help. Upholding human rights helps to promote public trust in the criminal justice system.
“When the public believes that the system is fair and impartial, they are more likely to cooperate with law enforcement and to report crimes.
“I also implore members of the public to desist from offering bribes to prosecutors or bribes to any other person involved in the criminal justice delivery system. Do not offer bribes and do not pay bribes. Some members of the public have a tendency to pay bribes and come and report when the deal goes sour.”
Swedish ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Per Lindgarde, said the right to fair trial was important.
“The right to a fair trial is indeed a basic human right. It is one of the universally applicable principles recognized already in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948 and still the cornerstone of the international human rights system. It has also been reaffirmed by legally binding treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The right to a fair trial must consequently be respected by all countries,” he said.
“The rule of law is the principle that the law applies equally to everyone, that no one is above the law, and, in particular, that Governments must comply with the law and that power is not exercised arbitrarily.”