HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsJudges’ opulent perks inconsistent with a struggling judiciary system

Judges’ opulent perks inconsistent with a struggling judiciary system

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Thomas Griffiths, an 18th century American writer and poet, once wrote: “Some things have to be seen to be believed.” The rationale of his statement being that some things defy the human mind and that no amount of words would ever do justice to explain except for the naked eye to see. This statement relates to things that go beyond the extreme.

GUEST COLUMN,LEARNMORE ZUZE

And perhaps no state of things aptly fit with Griffiths’ statement than the situation obtaining in so far as some of the infrastructure of the courts in the country is concerned.

When Judiciary Services Commission Secretary Justice Rita Makarau told Parliament last year that some of the court buildings inherited from the Justice ministry were in an appalling state, not many quite understood the density of the problem.

One has to visit some remote provinces to appreciate the appalling state of some infrastructure where the courts are conducting business.

Pathetic is the only word that would do justice in description. It simply does not render dignity to the courts.

In some provinces, courts are operating from old houses or old general dealer stores. They are courts merely because of the business conducted there, but the infrastructure, in all honesty, tells of a judiciary system in dire straits.

It is true, even as Justice Makarau confirmed, that there is a courtroom in one of the provinces which initially was a three-bedroomed house. The main lounge was used as the courtroom and the main bedroom was operating as the magistrate’s office, while the prosecution operated from the kitchen.

This sounds more of fiction than fact, but that is the cold reality; reality that hardly inspires confidence in a judiciary system, or does it? It makes one wonder at the seriousness of the business conducted within such courts, doesn’t it? Most of us had to put in years of study and many young people esteemed the legal profession, even opting to go out of the country to study law yet upon return this is the kind of realities they have to face up to.

The appalling state of the courts is no joke and if ever the word urgency ever meant something, this is possibly one area where the word aptly relates. Surely it is not right when magistrates and prosecutors have to share the same office. Surely it is not proper when magistrates have to board commuter buses with criminals who have cases pending before their courts. Incredibly, this is the reality obtaining. A significant number of magistrates, even prosecutors, do not own vehicles and have to make do with public transport exposing themselves to criminal elements everywhere they go.

Now, against this pitiable background, there is the issue of the opulent perks being awarded to judges in the face of such a sorry state of things. Surely, no sane person would dispute that judges should be afforded maximum security and that they should be comfortably cushioned from hardships. They are the face of the judiciary and it is important that they are well taken care of.

However, it naturally raises a stink when they have to be pampered against such a backcloth of a struggling judiciary where some provinces do not even have proper infrastructure. It boggles the mind when magistrates have no access to a single vehicle and a single judge has to be lavished with more than three luxurious vehicles.

It was recently reported that Zimbabwe’s senior judicial officers are living in luxury compared to their counterparts at independence in 1980. While then judges were allocated one Peugeot 504 motor vehicle and later Mazda 626s, assembled locally then, today, judges upon appointment are entitled to at least three sleek vehicles, including a Land Rover Discovery, Mercedes Benz E-Class and a 4×4 double-cab, in the face of a struggling judiciary system.

The splurge, in my opinion, is very much at odds with the current state of things in the judiciary system. There should be a clear distinction between luxuries and basics; proper court infrastructure is an indisputable basic which goes on to inspire confidence in the courts.
Resources, to a large extent, ought to be channelled towards the development of such basic infrastructure as opposed to spending on luxury. It is pertinent to ask whether the luxurious lifestyle and perks enhance the delivery of the justice system.

It is ironic and badly reflects on developing countries when the developed world, Denmark in particular, has been funding the construction of court buildings, donating basic materials and equipment when the JSC spends on luxury vehicles. The priorities don’t seem to be righty placed.

The JSC may cite that the cars are bought by Treasury and not the Commission, yet all the same, it does not make it right when the judiciary is underfunded and struggling.
Let’s get our priorities right.

●Learnmore Zuze is a legal researcher, author and media analyst. He writes here in his own capacity. E-mail:lastawa77@gmail.com

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