‘Judicial Bill needs massive overhaul’

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Let us not make it a habit to amend the Constitution willy-nilly

BY HARRIET CHIKANDIWA
LEGAL think-tank Veritas says the Judicial Laws Amendment Bill needs extensive amendments to comply with the Constitution.

The Bill seeks to provide for virtual court sittings in both civil and criminal proceedings when many nationals are not conversant with modern technology.

It also seeks to align various provisions of judicial laws to the Constitution.

The Judicial Service Commission launched the virtual court system in February this year to speed up the completion of cases clogging the Judiciary.

In a critique on the Bill titled Judicial Laws Amendment Bill: A Virtual Problem, Veritas said: “The Bill needs extensive amendments to make it comply with the Constitution and with the basic concepts of fairness that lie at the heart of our procedural law. We hope it will receive those amendments.”

Highlighting that most people do not have access to computers and are unfamiliar with their use to be able to participate in virtual hearings Veritas added: “Most accused persons fall into this category, so most criminal proceedings will have to be conducted as they are today, in person and in court. Anyone who has participated in virtual meetings using Zoom or Skype will know that the systems are prone to interruptions, blackouts, loss of sound and other technical troubles. It will be difficult, to say the least, to conduct court proceedings virtually unless the existing systems are greatly improved.

“Even if technical troubles are overcome, lawyers may find it hard to conduct trials virtually. Cross-examining a disembodied head on a computer screen will lack the immediacy of person-to-person confrontation. The amendments to the other Acts (which apply to courts which have no jurisdiction to deal with criminal cases) all contain a provision stating that: ‘Rules of court for virtual sittings shall apply’, which is completely unintelligible.”

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