Judge queries effectiveness of death penalty

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The effectiveness of the death penalty has come under spotlight from High Court judge Justice Charles Hungwe, who questioned its purpose, saying Zimbabweans should debate it before finalising the new constitution.

Speaking at the official opening of the legal year in Mutare yesterday, Justice Hungwe said debate about the contentious murder sentence could enrich the future constitution.

His call came hot on the heels of a spirited campaign against capital punishment by various stakeholders in the country who described it as an infringement of universal human rights.

The efficacy of the death penalty has been called into question. Further debate should enrich input into our future constitution. Do we really need it at all costs? queried the judge.

A justiciable Bill of Rights makes it very explicit that fidelity to law is also fidelity to such values as are espoused in a future constitution.

I mention these matters here because the present state of our laws do not make it explicit that it is the duty of the State to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights presently enshrined in our Constitution.

As the process of constitution-making drags on, we fervently hope that these rights and duties are more clearly and openly spelt out. Fingerpointing will be reduced if not completely eliminated when the rights of the citizen are clearly spelt out.

He added that Zimbabwe needed a system of law firmly anchored in fundamental constitutional values particularly human dignity, the achievement of equality, and the advancement of human rights and freedom.

Hungwe said this could only be achieved if the judiciary worked in a free environment to interpret the constitution without outside interference and to validate government action that infringed on constitutional values.

Hungwe also lamented the huge backlog in courts, saying this affected efficient delivery of justice.
The present system has created a neverending spiral of backlog congesting, not just the High Court, but also the magistrates courts and even the lower courts, he said.

The volumes of matters requiring the attention of superior court judges has resulted in multi-faceted problems which include backlogs and slow delivery of justice to the extent that public confidence in the judicial process has been significantly reduced. It is time to address this social malady.