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Lawyers slam bid to change Constitution

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The government’s plan to amend the country’s Constitution smacks of sinister motives and bodes ill for good governance, the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) has said.

BY PAIDAMOYO MUZULU

In a hard-hitting statement, the lawyers’ body accused President Robert Mugabe’s administration of seeking to usurp the powers of the judiciary in the contentious issue of amending section 180 of the Constitution relating to the appointment of the Chief Justice.

Government, last month, gazetted the amendment Bill that seeks to give the President unfettered powers in appointing the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and Judge President after mere consultation with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), unlike the current situation, where the vacancies are filled through a process that includes public interviews of all nominated persons.

The proposal has been met with criticism amid accusations that the ruling Zanu PF party’s internal power struggles to succeed Mugabe are the inspiration behind the move, with current Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku’s term coming to an end next month.

LSZ argues that if there are inadequacies in the current formula to select judges, it should be relooked, but the changes should not entail giving more power to “one person, who does not report to anyone”.

“In correcting the weaknesses, the executive need not usurp the functions currently reposed in the JSC and place them under an authority with no accountability to anyone or any other institution. The amendment does not seek to improve good governance,” the LSZ statement said.

The society further described the timing of the amendment and suspension of the Constitution as questionable.

“The timing of the amendment is equally disconcerting, as it comes when a constitutionally mandated process was already underway. In an unprecedented manner, the executive has sought the suspension of the operation of the Constitution in order to allow the proposed amendment to pass through. This approach is wrong and unlawful,” it added.

Last month, JSC conducted interviews for Chief Justice candidates nominated to succeed Chidyausiku, who turns 70 in February and is constitutionally barred from continuing as head of the judiciary. There were four nominations:
Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba, Judge of Appeal, Rita Makarau, Supreme Court Judge Paddington Garwe and Judge President George Chiweshe.

However, Justice Chiweshe did not attend the interviews after a University of Zimbabwe law student challenged the process and sought the amendment of the Constitution.

LSZ said the suspension of the judicial process was unlawful.

“In an unprecedented manner, the executive has sought the suspension of the operation of the Constitution in order to allow the proposed amendment to pass through. The approach is wrong and unlawful. The Constitution is the supreme law of Zimbabwe. All other laws and directives are subordinate to it,” LSZ said, urging the government to adopt a “progressive approach towards constitutional supremacy and desist from circumventing it through such capricious amendments”.

The JSC has since forwarded the three names of the candidates who participated to President Robert Mugabe to choose one for appointment.

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