BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
THE Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has bemoaned an increased backlog in cases owing to the suspension of court operations during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns which stalled trials.
In his speech to mark the official opening of the 2021 legal year delivered virtually, Chief Justice Luke Malaba said due to the pandemic, litigants had had challenges in travelling to court which resulted in backlogs in court
According to statistics released by the JSC, as of yesterday, one judicial officer succumbed to the virus and 31 had tested positive, while two others were in critical condition.
“Even after the lockdown was partially lifted, it remained very difficult for witnesses to attend court for trials,” Justice Malaba said.
“The majority of criminal cases are heard in the criminal court. The court was, therefore, receiving cases and placing accused persons on remand, but very few cases were being finalised because no trials were taking place. This caused the increase in the backlog of criminal cases at most of the courts.”
At the beginning of this year, the criminal courts had a backlog of 6 147 cases up from
4 939 of 2020. In line with the 30-day lockdown measures announced by government recently, JSC rolled over all pending cases to next month and opened the courts only for initial remand cases, urgent matters and bail applications.
Justice Malaba, however, said incompetence by some stakeholders in the justice delivery system had stalled completion of cases because thorough investigations were not done before the cases were brought to court.
The Chief Justice castigated legal practitioners who unnecessarily prevented commencement of trials of their clients and urged them to pursue trial to prove the accused’s innocence.
“Some trials fail to commence in the courts because of the inept investigations that would have been made at the initial stages by the investigating agents and not corrected by the National Prosecuting Authority before the case is brought to court,” he said.
“The efficiency of an investigating officer is not measured by having a person placed on remand, but by the successful prosecution of the accused at his or her trial.”
Last year, controversial businessman Delish Nguwaya was removed from remand after his case on the COVID-19 tender fraud had been postponed for six months.
A former director in the Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare ministry, Ngoni Masoka, was also removed from remand on charges of abusing National Social Security Authority funds after his case had dragged for six months without trial.
For the JSC to achieve the dictates of its 2021 theme of Ensuring an Efficient and Effective Judiciary, Justice Malaba pledged to follow the constitutional principles of independence and impartiality to the letter.
He said: “Judicial independence does not shield the bearer thereof from being held accountable to the standard of efficient and effective performance of the duties prescribed by the law for the benefit of the intended receivers of the service.”
Of late, the JSC has been under public scrutiny for failing to respect the rule of law and using the law to advance the interests of the elite and persecution of dissenters.