OUTGOING Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku yesterday revealed the extent of government interference in the judiciary, amid claims that a member of the Executive wrote a fake letter trying to stop the process of appointing judicial officers.
By PAIDAMOYO MUZULU
With the top judge set to retire at the end of next month, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) set in a motion a process to replace him, but an unnamed government official is said to have clandestinely tried to stop the process, but failed.
A lawsuit to stop the process soon followed, but yesterday the Chief Justice lifted the lid on the behind-the-scenes machinations meant to stop the process.
In his speech to mark the official opening of the 2017 legal year, he said he realised there was potential for conflict, as the process to appoint his successor was markedly different from the previous one and he informed the Executive of this and when he received no response, he inferred that it meant the government had no issues with the new procedure.
“I was surprised to receive communication a few days before the interviews were to commence that an Executive order had been issued ordering the JSC to stop the interviews of filling the post of Chief Justice,” he said.
“I responded to the communication, advising that the Executive’s directive could not be complied with without breaking the Constitution and that the interviews would proceed as planned and in terms of the Constitution.”
Then Chief Justice Chidyausiku dropped the bombshell: “I have since established that the President never issued the alleged Executive order to stop the interviews.”
He said since they reaffirmed their decision to be guided by the Constitution in choosing his successor, a certain section of the media had decided to impugn the JSC, a subtle attack on State media, which has seemingly chosen a factional slant in the debate on choosing the next Chief Justice.
The Chief Justice did not reveal who was responsible for the said Executive order, although last year it was reported that chief secretary to the Office of the President and Cabinet, Misheck Sibanda, had written to the JSC seeking to halt the interviews.
Sibanda is said to be a key ally of Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, as Zanu PF factional fights continue to dominate the news.
To add to that, Mnangagwa, in his capacity as being in charge of the Justice ministry, wrote to the courts and the JSC informing them of an impending constitutional amendment to change the way judges are appointed — as he sought to have the President to have the sole prerogative — further muddying the waters.
Under the Constitution, JSC interviews four candidates and forwards three names to the President.
“In the proposed amendment, he [the President] will be at large to choose the next CJ from the bench. Thus, whichever method is used, in the final analysis, it is the President’s choice that will prevail,” Chief Justice Chidyausiku said.
The judiciary seems to be the site of Zanu PF’s latest turf war, as factions squabble on the procedure to appoint the Chief Justice, raising fears they may want to influence judgments.
Chief Justice Chidyausiku retires 16 years after taking over from Anthony Gubbay, who was hounded out of office by Mugabe’s administration.