Zimbabwe’s justice delivery system has been a big let-down since the wheels started coming off in 2000.
A purge of the judiciary began in earnest with the equally destructive land reform programme.
Independent judges were forced out by Zanu PF zealots on the specious grounds that they were relics of colonialism.
The economic meltdown also played its part in destroying what was left of a once respected judicial system.
But the continued breakdown of the justice delivery system had its genesis in politically-inspired appointments to the bench and even the prosecutions authority.
A glaring example of this decay is the continued abuse of Section 121 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act by officers from the Attorney-General (AG)’s Office.
The law empowers officers prosecuting on behalf of the AG to veto bail granted to accused persons for seven days.
The prosecution is allowed to appeal within that period to the High Court against a magistrate’s decision to grant bail.
The legislature may have had noble intentions in enacting this law, but it is now clear that it has become a victim of our contaminated politics.
Law officers have used the legislation to punish Zanu PF opponents with inexcusable frequency.
The latest victims are three officers from the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) who were arrested last month in Gwanda on charges of insulting President Robert Mugabe and violating the Public Order and Security Act.
However, the trio were released on December 20 by High Court judge Justice Nicholas Mathonsi.
Justice Mathonsi’s full judgment, which has since been made public, gave us hope that Zimbabwe’s justice delivery system could be rehabilitated if those entrusted with its administration stopped allowing politics to override common sense.
The judgment was a serious indictment of the AG’s Office.
Justice Mathonsi correctly observed that it was now time to “announce to law officers . . . that Section 121 should be invoked only in those situations where there is merit in appeal”.
“The abuse of Section 121 to keep persons in custody who have been granted bail has tended to bring the administration of justice into disrepute,” reads the judgment.
“Persons who have been properly granted bail should not be kept in custody merely as a way of punishment,” the judge continued.
“That is an improper exercise in the discretion given to the Attorney-General by Section 121.”
He also castigated the officers for invoking Section 121 without applying their minds. We can only guess that the learned officers were following instructions.
If AG Johannes Tomana is interested in salvaging his image as the chief government law officer who carried out his duties without fear or favour, he must listen to Justice Mathonsi’s wise counsel.