‘Sitting judges will not benefit from constitutional amendments’

By Everson Mushava/Lorraine Muromo

SITTING judges, including Chief Justice Luke Malaba, will not benefit from constitutional amendments proposed by the Zanu PF government to extend the retirement age of judges from 70 to 75 years, a legal expert has said.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has proposed a raft of constitutional amendments through Constitutional Amendment Bill 2019, which critics say will create an imperial presidency while whittling down the power of Parliament.

The amendments also cover the appointment of judges, among others, and the extension of their retirement age to 75 years up from 70, a move viewed as a way of rewarding Chief Justice Malaba, who is due to retire next year.

But Brian Crozier, a consultant with legal think-tank Veritas, said Justice Malaba and all the sitting judges could not benefit from the proposed amendment, which has the potential of destroying judicial independence.

“One of the proposals (is) to allow judges to carry on after the age of 70, to 75. This actually is a provision which cannot apply to existing judges,” Crozier said.

“So I don’t think government realised that none of the existing judges can take advantage of that provision. They all have to go at the age of 70. Some of us will be very glad. Section 328(7) of the Constitution provides that an amendment to extend a term-limit provision of a person occupying a public office does not apply in relation to any person already holding the post before the amendment.”

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Crozier was addressing a meeting between the media and human rights defenders in Harare yesterday.

Titled Preserving the Supremacy of the Constitution, the meeting was hosted by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum. It sought to engage the media on how it can play a pivotal role in educating citizens on their constitutional rights.

Malaba presided over opposition MDC leader Nelson Chamisa’s court challenge against Mnangagwa’s narrow and controversial electoral victory in 2018.

Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum executive director Blessing Gorejena said it was worrying that government was pushing through amendments on a Constitution that it has not even implemented.

“There still are provisions of the current provision that we are still to test. What have been the measuring tools to say what worked or didn’t work?” Gorejena queried, adding that the amendment’s net effect is to diminish Parliament’s oversight role, while increasing the powers of the President.

“The Constitution already gives the President a lot of powers. Should he be given more?”

On the constitutionality of the amendments, Gorejena said: “It’s not a matter of the Constitution, but principle. The government must be accountable to its citizens. The question is, is it desirable? Are there no other means to correct the already existing Constitution? I believe the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, a life blood of the nation and should not be tampered with. The Amendment Bill is rather a consolidation of power.”

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