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NewsDay Editorial: When justice delayed is justice denied

Opinion & Analysis
Can a criminal case remain pending in court for 28 months without being concluded? Can a High Court draft judgment remain pending for several years

Can a criminal case remain pending in court for 28 months without being concluded? Can a High Court draft judgment remain pending for several years after conclusion of presentation of evidence?

Southern Eye Editorial

This is what has happened in a murder case in which 29 MDC-T activists were accused of murdering police Inspector Petros Mutedza in Glen View, Harare, sometime in May 2011.

Since their arrests, the case had been postponed many times and one of the accused, Rebecca Mafukeni, died in prison after failing to access her medication. The accused had made frantic efforts to be released on bail to no avail.

“It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important,” civil rights leader Martin Luther King once said.

Yesterday, High Court judge Justice Chinembiri Bhunu acquitted 21 of the MDC-T activists accused of Mutedza’s murder after ruling there was no prima facie case against them. However, Justice Bhunu placed seven others on their defence after the State reportedly proved a prima facie case against them.

Sadly, their case was postponed sine die.

This is a shocking example of delayed justice and human rights abuse. Surely, after spending over two years in custody this is a case where the prosecution, it seems invariably, believes an accused is guilty until proven innocent and not vice-versa.

Some 28 months is a lifetime in our short life. Should we conclude that the MDC-T activists were punished because of their political inclination?

What compensation is there for their families given that there was already one tragic loss of life?

What is curious is the fact that when they continued to apply for bail they were denied their freedom after the court cited no changed circumstances since their arrests.

We believe that with the coming in of the new Constitution, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Attorney-General’s Office, criminal cases of this nature are dealt with expeditiously so families don’t suffer unnecessarily.

Even in the worst case scenario, an accused’s rights should be respected. That is obviously not the case here.

Even more disturbing is the fact that the court is acquitting the political activists after two good years and four months behind prison walls.

What benefit will there be for them — their families, relatives and friends?

If they were breadwinners they perhaps will now grapple with some chronic diseases contracted in prison during their incarceration.

This is no justice at all.

One wonders in whose interest it was to arrest innocent people with a view to investigate, in the process wasting human lives and taxpayers’ hard-earned incomes.