The High Court judge who angered President Robert Mugabe’s government in September by suspending the police ban on demonstrations, Justice Priscilla Chigumba, is now in trouble with allegations that she solicited for a $20 000 bribe from one of the parties in a case she was presiding over.
The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) revealed the matter yesterday. JSC chairman Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku said they were considering referring the case to President Mugabe for him to set up a commission to look into the matter.
This came out during an interview in which Justice Chigumba was among eight High Court judges that were being interviewed by the JSC to be considered for elevation to the Supreme Court.
Justice Chigumba was grilled by members of the JSC led by Chief Justice Chidyausiku over a complaint that it received to the effect that the judge had sent an agent to solicit for a bribe from a Mr Kanokanga who was one of the parties in a case in which she was presiding over.
Justice Chidyausiku said the JSC had received a written complaint from Mr Kanokanga and said while they had asked Justice Chigumba to make a written response, she was obliged to comment on the allegations since the commission was troubled over the allegations given that she was now seeking higher office.
“I think you are aware that Mr Kanokanga, who was a party in a matter that you presided over has alleged that you, through a third party (name supplied) solicited a bribe for yourself and he refused and paid a price of losing the case. Obviously, the commissioners are really troubled by these allegations,” said the Chief Justice.
“There are certain aspects of his complaints that have a ring of truth, particularly where he said the agent was invited to a restaurant where you and this other person were having lunch. He also said this agent had information pertaining to the details of the proceedings when in fact he was not present in that court and then of course, the possibility that the alleged agent had fabricated this story. Unfortunately, as an interviewing panel, we do not have the investigative machinery to determine where the truth lies.”
Mr Kanokanga, said Chief Justice Chidyausiku, alleged that he had been impoverished as a result of the judgment which saw him being evicted from premises in the central business district.
“Like Caesar’s wife, a judge has to be beyond reproach. That’s the difficulty that the commission finds itself. Obviously, the JSC has the option of referring the matter to the President for a judicial inquiry to be appointed. That is something that we have to consider.
“The complaint that was made is in such a way that we cannot really just dismiss it without a proper inquiry. It may as well be that the person that is alleged to be your agent took advantage either of your relationship and fabricated this whole thing — that may be one scenario or that thing never happened at all,” said Chief Justice.
In response Justice Chigumba denied the allegations. She said Mr Kanokanga, by his own admission, was not mentally sound.
“Mr Kanokanga, during the course of the trial, had indicated that as a result of this eviction, he had become unable to function and had to be treated by doctors for a mental disorder which arose as he said, from the fact that he had been impoverished by the eviction. He was very bitter. So, to answer your question, I did not directly or indirectly do or cause anything to be done which, is inconsistent with my oath of office as a judge or my duty to dispense justice without fear or favour or prejudice.
“I would like Mr Kanokanga, if he has any evidence that he can avail to the commission of whatever it is, that he is alleging to avail such evidence because an allegation which is baseless and without foundation, in my view, ought not to be allowed to influence anything that is adverse towards me unless and until it is substantiated,” said Justice Chigumba.
“Just because I was seen having lunch with someone does not mean that I am responsible for that person’s actions. The question that you put to me that Caesar’s wife ought to be beyond reproach, my response to that is I have already taken oath of office of being a judge. Because I took an oath of being a judge, I think that my word or my moral probity ought to be believed, the presumption should be, I am telling the truth until such time evidence is placed before the commission that something untoward happened.”
Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba weighed in, “The issue of alleged impropriety on your part, is a matter of great concern to the commissioners. Do you know this eating outlet which is opposite St John’s College?
“How does this person place you at that eating place which you have not been to for a long time in the manner he says you were with this person who approached him (Mr Kanokanga) and said you wanted $20 000? Your position, of course, in your reply is that this should be dismissed as a matter of madness,” said Justice Malaba.
“Well, he is a self-confessed sufferer of mental disorder. I have no idea of what was happening in his head. He did say that he takes medication for chronic depression. He did say he blames the owner of the commercial premises for evicting him because it rendered him unable to operate. I do not know what effect my judgment had on him,” said Justice Chigumba.
Chief Justice Chidyausiku also took issue about the inclusion of his name and that of Judge president George Chiweshe as her referees on her curriculum vitae. But Justice Chigumba said it was an oversight as she had forgotten to update it.
Other High Court judges that were interviewed were Justices Charles Hungwe, Alphas Chitakunye, Francis Bere, Joseph Mafusire, Nicholas Mathonsi, Samuel Kudya and Lavendar Makoni.