Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday told the Southern Africa Chief Justices’ Forum jointly hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia in Victoria Falls that the Second Republic would continue respecting the independence of the Judiciary and the principle of separation of powers in line with the tenets of constitutional democracy.
He said Zimbabwe had one of most transparent systems in Africa in terms of the appointment of judges of the superior courts.
Prospective judges were subjected to public interviews in terms of Section 180 (4) of the Constitution.
The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has to invite nominations of qualified and experienced lawyers, and members of the public can make these nominations, who are then short-listed for interviews, which are held under public glare.
While promotions from the High Court to the Supreme and Constitutional Courts no longer required interviews, those moved up had track records that everyone could see.
“Allow me to emphasise that my Government respects the principle of separation of powers and the independence of the Judiciary as a cornerstone of a constitutional democracy. We have one of the most transparent judges’ appointment systems in which prospective judges are subjected to public interviews by the Judicial Service Commission,” he said.
“Government, therefore respects the decisions and orders of the courts and has put in place mechanisms to enforce those orders. This is indeed a fundamental aspect of the rule of law.”
The President said the need to respect the independence of the Judiciary did not however, imply that judges should not be held accountable.
“An accountable and transparent Judiciary is one that people can have uttermost confidence in and one that is free of corruption while also expeditiously dealing with and finalising matters before the courts,” he said.
“Judiciary independence is guaranteed as the essence of the rule of law on condition that the principles of transparency and accountability are observed in the performance of judicial functions.”
But Zimbabwe has constitutionally entrenched provisions for security of tenure provisions that also protect the Judiciary from the perceptions of victimisation. Dismissal of a judge before retirement age is a complex process involving a recommendation and then an independent tribunal to investigate.
President Mnangagwa said the Judiciary provided an essential service and implored delegates drawn from 11 countries to embrace information communication technologies and harness its potential in light of Covid-19.
“Even in such difficult times, you have an obligation to ensure that the wheels of justice do not grind to a halt. Justice must be kept alive and accessible to all. There is therefore need for the Judiciary to be innovative and come up with ways to continue dispensing justice,” said President Mnangagwa.
He said ICT was a key strategic focus area of the Second Republic underpinning Vision 2030 which sought to achieve an upper middle-income status for the country’s economy.
He said there was a compelling need for expeditious hearing and finalisation of commercial disputes by the courts as part of reforms for ease of doing business.
“As such, my Government facilitated the establishment of a stand-alone commercial court which specialises on commercial disputes. In addition, an integrated electronic case management system that allows for e-filing of documents, amongst other digital functionalities has been adopted,” said President Mnangagwa.
The e-filing seeks to take full advantage of the benefits of flexibility and automation of court processes which foster efficiency, transparency and improved access to justice.
Court procedures will be expedited while minimising direct human contact at certain stages of the process, thus eliminating opportunities for corruption. “This will undoubtedly contribute to the efficiency of our courts in line with best international standards.”
The President said a “needs-based approach” was essential where specific requirements of particular communities were to be catered for.
“Wholesome implementation of the new technology-based innovations without taking into account such special needs of rural populations, has capacity to undo all our efforts towards breaking barriers to the access to justice. In undertaking your work as the judiciary, you have an obligation to ensure that no one and no place is left behind,” he said. “Our technological innovations must therefore be appropriately customised to meet those basic requirements.”
The President warned that security in the face of cyber-crime, which may threaten the efficacy and credibility of the systems, must be at the forefront when deploying computer-based technology in the administration of justice. -Herald