The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) yesterday grilled five High Court judges who are eyeing the Supreme Court bench in public interviews conducted in Harare.
By Farai Matiashe
Justices Felicia Chatukuta, Samuel Kudya, Elfas Chitakunye, Charles Hungwe and Nicholas Mathonsi were interviewed by a bench of seven members of the JSC.
They were asked four similar questions by Chief Justice Luke Malaba followed by follow-up and new questions from the rest of the interviewers who included Deputy Chief Justice Elizabeth Gwaunza, Judge President George Chiweshe, commissioners Lloyd Mhishi, Priscilla Mutembwa, Happias Zhou and Josphat Tshuma.
Justice Chatukuta, the only female candidate eyeing the apex court post, was the first to be grilled and she acquitted herself well.
Chief Justice Malaba further asked her how she viewed judiciary activism.
“In my view, it is looking at other developments and other jurisdictions. The Constitution provides recognition of international law. These can play a role in changing the current law. It is looking at a law differently,” she said in response.
When asked to clarify if she meant that the Supreme Court should be making the law and if so why then having the law in the first instance, she said: “There are relationships between individuals and the State and relationships between individuals themselves. The Supreme Court has the power to develop law in terms of what happens in other jurisdictions. The Supreme Court is supposed to apply law as it is, but if there is room to develop the law, the Supreme Court can (then develop law).”
Justice Chitakunye, who was second, was not so eloquent even though he tried to give short responses to the questions.
Justice Hungwe had convincing facts and spoke with confidence.
When asked how he would handle criticism of the judiciary as was often the case, he said: “I think that it is important for the judiciary to have a platform where public criticisms are addressed which is what the judiciary does not have right now. I suggest that the JSC appoints not just a public relations officer, but that office must be equipped to be able to handle public criticism and conduct by judges.
“We see and read about all these in the media, but as judges we are hamstrung in terms of being able to respond and a perception sometimes can be crystalised as a fact and that might actually tarnish the judiciary when issues could have been addressed by the appropriate office.”
There has been disgruntlement among members of the public, accusing the judiciary of being biased and that it is captured by the ruling elite.
During the past years, most cases involving people aligned to the ruling party, Zanu PF, were ruled in favour of those parties.
Responding to a question from the interviewers about what judges should do when operating in a political environment that is polarised, Justice Hungwe said there was need to jealously guard the judiciary’s independence by emphasising the constitutional provisions which pointed to the independence of the judiciary to keep politics away from the judiciary.