JUDICIARY Services Commission (JSC) secretary Justice Rita Makarau yesterday told Parliament that some of the court buildings inherited from the Justice ministry were in an appalling state.
SENIOR PARLIAMENTARY REPORTER
Makarau had appeared before the Parliamentary Thematic Committee on Human Rights to speak on the state of the justice delivery system.
She said in some provinces, courts operated from old houses or old general dealer stores.
“Some of the court buildings that we inherited as a commission were not courtrooms at all – and we had a courthouse which was a three-bedroomed house where the main lounge was used as the courtroom and the main bedroom was operating as the magistrate’s office, while the prosecution came out of the kitchen,” she said.
“In another instance, we had a general dealers’ store in Matabeleland South that was converted into a courthouse and the court itself was separated from other
offices by a curtain (zambia) and when the magistrate finished the proceedings he would adjourn behind the curtain, and we did not think that was the dignity that our courts deserved.”
Makarau said they had identified worst-case scenarios where people in Kanyemba travelled 400 kilometres to access courts. She said as a result people had to sleep outside the courts to ensure they did not miss the proceedings which adjourned at 3pm.
Makarau said the Dutch Embassy had partnered with the Legal Resources Centre and JSC in a project worth $15 million to build up to 30 courthouses in different provinces in the country.
On conditions of service for judicial officers, Makarau said they were unacceptable compared to the region.
But she said JSC also understood the constraints in the fiscal space.
“If our judicial officers can be brought to the level of those in the Sadc region, then we can start talking about efficiency in dealing with corruption,” she said.
“There are many stakeholders in the justice delivery system like the Zimbabwe Prison Services, the Zimbabwe Republic Police and others, and it is the entire chain that has to be looked at when dealing with corruption to see how they can be tightened to minimise loopholes.”
Makarau said it was inappropriate to underpay judicial officers to the extent magistrates became lodgers and asked for transport assistance from members of the public.
She said it was difficult to decentralise the courts due to financial constraints and the need to have infrastructure in place in those areas of other stakeholders like prison services and the police.
“We have ensured there is gender parity and out of 10 judges, five are female. The Supreme Court has the lowest female judges, while the High Court and Labour Court have the highest number of female judges. We have more female magistrates and have done very well in terms of gender parity,” Makarau said.