Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku yesterday slammed members of the executive for allegedly trying to influence court outcomes by offering unsolicited legal opinion on matters that are pending before the courts.
Chidyausiku said members of the judiciary were gravely concerned about this interference and regarded the separation of power as “very critical and a sine qua non for an independent and impartial judiciary”.
The Chief Justice was officially opening the 2011 legal year at the High Court in Harare.
“The tenets of the doctrine are not only meant to stop the executive and the legislature from interfering with the judiciary and vice versa, but to keep each of the three arms of state separate from each other,” Chidyausiku said.
“The doctrine demands that for a functional state, each of the three arms must respect the constitutional sovereignty of the other two.
“We in the judiciary are very clear that we are courts of law and do not aspire to become members of the executive or legislators. Our constitutional mandate is to interpret the law and apply the law to the cases that come before us. We provide legal solutions to legal problems. However, we accept as inevitable that now and again political disputes spill into courts. When that happens we do our best to resolve such disputes. It should, however, be appreciated by all and sundry
that courts are courts of law and not political tribunals.”
Chidyausiku said there was need to balance the rule against commenting on matters that are pending trial and the right of the populace to information.
“The reporting of the factual background surrounding the matter before the court is permissible as recognition of the right to information.
“What is not permissible is to intentionally or unintentionally influence the outcome of the trial by not only commenting on the facts but giving legal meaning to the events and commenting on the likely outcome of the trial,” Justice Chidyausiku said.
Chidyausiku said the 2010 legal year saw an increase in the number of criminal cases referred to the High Court of Zimbabwe compared to 2009, raising fears that criminal activities in the country were rising.
“The increase in the number of criminal trials coming to the High Court is a cause for concern as it tends to indicate that the level of criminality in the country is rising instead of decreasing.
“I, however, wish to commend the police for a job well done in apprehending these criminals even though this has the effect of increasing the workload of the court,” Justice Chidyausiku said.
The Chief Justice said the Supreme Court, sitting as a Constitutional Court and a final court of appeal, last year received 31 constitutional applications of which 25 were not ready for set-down because the applicants had not filed heads of arguments .
He said five had been disposed of while one was withdrawn.
The Supreme Court had also received 134 civil appeals and 29 criminal appeals from the High Court, he said.
Of these cases 18 were disposed of and five were withdrawn while 111 cases are not yet ready for set-down, Justice Chidyausiku said.