By Daniel Nemukuyu
Critical shortage of magistrates is posing a serious threat to the justice delivery system, amid reports that 19 courts have since 1 been closed. At Harare Magistrates Court alone, four courts are now redundant due to shortage of magistrates while in Mutare one was closed.
At least 14 other courts were closed at various stations countrywide, a development that has increased the workload on the few available magistrates. The situation obtains at a time when litigation is on the increase.
The recruitment freeze imposed by Treasury on all publicly-funded institutions resulted in a severe shortage of manpower across all grades in the Judicial Service.
Addressing magistrates during his tour of Manicaland yesterday, Chief Justice Luke Malaba said magistrates were understaffed and several courtrooms had been shut.
“The magistracy is understaffed and this has resulted in the closure of courtrooms at some stations,” he said.
“We have since appealed to Treasury for permission to recruit and we believe they are working on the request. We pleaded with Treasury to grant the JSC a special dispensation to recruit magistrates to ensure that the lower courts do not go back to the era where the backlog of cases was uncontrollable.”
The situation of scarcity of magistrates is becoming desperate,” said the Chief Justice.
“We hope something will be done soon to enable us to recruit and manage the crisis,” said Chief Justice Malaba.
Chief Justice Malaba, who is also chairperson of the Judicial Service Commission, said Zimbabweans had become too litigious and unfreezing of the posts will go a long way in improving efficiency of the courts.
The Judiciary boss said since the National Prosecuting Authority recently got the green light to recruit prosecutors, the JSC should also be allowed to increase the number of magistrates. “The Prosecutor-General got permission to recruit, but prosecutors do not appear before themselves,” he said.
“Prosecutors appear before magistrates and the number of magistrates should also be increased.”
Chief Justice Malaba is also seeking permission to promote judicial officers who have been stuck on their positions for years.
“A person cannot remain in one post for years,” he said. “I would never have wanted to remain a provincial magistrate forever. We need to have a review of the situation.”
In an interview, JSC acting secretary Mr Walter Chikwana disclosed that 19 courts have been closed because of the crisis.
“Statistics show that 19 courts throughout Zimbabwe have already been closed as there are no enough magistrates in post,” said Mr Chikwana.
More magistrates are needed considering that they are now handling commercial disputes in line with Government’s thrust of improving ease of doing business.
The Anti-Corruption Courts that will be launched this week, will also require more magistrates.
Promotion of judicial officers is also important because magistrates handle cases according to their seniority. The Herald