Chief Justice decries intimidation of judicial officers

Chief Justice Luke Malaba yesterday bemoaned misinformation and attempted intimidation of judicial officers for decisions made during the course of their work.

Opening the 2024 legal year in Harare, Chief Justice Malaba said at the last count, seven judges had fallen victim to misinformation and attempted intimidation.

His remarks come against the background of sharp criticism of the judiciary by opposition politicians and their lawyers whenever court judgments go against them, especially those related to election outcomes.

The country held peaceful general elections in August last year whose outcome the opposition disputed.

“During the course of the elections period, disparaging and damaging remarks were made against the Judiciary in general and some judges of the Supreme Court and the High Court. The unwarranted aspersions stemmed from decisions which the courts had made,” Chief Justice Malaba said.

“Even more concerning was the fact that the disparaging remarks were made by some members of the legal profession who are expected to have known better.”

He said there were instances where litigants that lost cases went on a tirade, casting aspersions on the integrity of the courts and the judges, raising unfounded allegations of corruption, threatened and attempted to intimidate judicial officers who would have made decisions against them.

The Chief Justice said in such instances involving lawyers, the JSC engaged the Law Society of Zimbabwe and the engagement resulted in the matters being resolved amicably.

He encouraged the media to continue to report fairly on matters of public interest arising from and affecting the justice delivery system.

These arise from matters of public interest from the court operations and the conduct of judicial officers who are custodians of the Constitution.

“Constitutionalism discourages vexatious and unrelenting litigation by litigants whose conduct is directed at undermining public confidence in the independence and integrity of not only the Judiciary but the entire administration of the justice system,” Chief Justice Malaba said.

“The respect for the rule of law and for the independence of the courts demanded by constitutionalism requires that litigants should comply with court orders and legitimately use the remedies put in place by the law to challenge the unfavourable decisions of the courts.

Appeal processes and complaints mechanisms are not intended to be abused  by litigants for selfish ends. The designation of appeal courts by the Constitution arose out of recognition of the fallibility of, and the possibility of error on the part of, judicial officers and the need to put in place effective remedies for correcting such errors,” he said.

However, it must be noted that the Constitution provides that “an order or decision of a court binds the State and all persons and governmental institutions and agencies to which it applies, and must be obeyed by them”.

Chief Justice Malaba encouraged judges not to shy away from making decisions on account of baseless complaints and allegations raised against them by vexatious litigants as justice is not lopsided.

“It cannot be the norm that justice can only be said to have been done when the disposition is inclined to a particular outcome favoured by a litigant in question. It will be an affront to the doctrine of constitutionalism and the essence of the rule of law if judges were to allow themselves to be intimidated by errant litigants who lose cases in court,” he said.

“In pursuing the entrenchment of constitutionalism, the Judiciary thus notes that vexatious litigation, unrestrained denigration, threats and spurious complaints against judicial officers have no place in a country controlled by a constitutional order.”

Chief Justice Malaba said the Judiciary will continue to dispense justice in terms of the law, impartially, without fear, favour or prejudice.

He said his comments were not meant to protect the courts and judges from fair scrutiny, adverse comments and criticism of their judgments and decisions, as such criticism is central to constitutional democracy.

On the contrary, he said, constructive criticism of the judiciary, done with decency and respect, is encouraged as this helps to improve the efficiency of the courts. — New Ziana.

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