Harsh sentences slammed

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GWERU — High court judge Justice Maxwell Takuva said magistrates should always consider the need to reform and rehabilitate criminals as opposed to just imposing retributive sentences, especially on petty crimes.

BY BLESSED MHLANGA
STAFF REPORTER

Officially opening the Gweru High Court Circuit yesterday, Justice Takuva slammed the unjustified delays in dealing with criminal matters in the lower courts.

He accused magistrates of unnecessarily imposing stiffer penalties on petty crimes when the worldwide trend was moving towards non-custodial sentences.

“It should be noted that the worldwide trend is towards non-custodial sentencing. However, from review records submitted to the High Court (in) Harare and Bulawayo, a disturbing trend has developed whereby magistrates throughout the country impose custodial sentences for petty cases of assault and/or theft,” Justice Takuva said.

“A perusal of these records reveals that the court would have lost sight of the need for a rational approach to sentencing, which calls for reformative and rehabilitative sentencing as opposed to retributive and deterrence in a case where a fine or community service could have met the justice of the case.”

He also implored magistrates countrywide to ensure criminal cases and trials were conducted within a reasonable time as delays would be detrimental to the mental and physical health of accused persons.

The judge said he was worried, especially because most of the delays in bringing finality to criminal matters were largely due to administrative incompetence.

“In some cases, delays are caused by administrative inertia or incompetence. It is advised that magistrates conduct monthly checks of criminal records in order to ensure that outstanding matters do not escape their attention,” Justice Takuva said.

Justice Takuva also had no kind words for lawyers saying they should behave in an honourable manner and not as charlatans in the eyes of the public.

He warned that lawyers, who dumped clients in mid-trial, risked being charged with misconduct by the courts because the courts will no longer accept such a behaviour.

“We should not have a situation where members of the public look on lawyers as charlatans or a necessary evil. Lawyers should position themselves so that they become necessary in the delivery of justice and not an impediment of the delivery of justice,” he said.

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