By Daniel Nemukuyu
The High Court has suspended public interviews for a new Chief Justice pending proposed amendments to the Constitution, but the Judicial Service Commission gave notice that it will appeal the decision at the Supreme Court today.
An appeal at the Supreme Court suspends the decision of the High Court until the higher court rules. The JSC will meet at 9am this morning to decide whether to proceed, the commission announced in a Press statement last night.
Justice Charles Hungwe yesterday barred the interviews that were set for today following a successful application by University of Zimbabwe law student Mr Romeo Taombera Zibani to do away with the interviews and grant President Mugabe unfettered discretion to appoint a Chief Justice of his choice.
“The provisional order is granted in terms of the amended draft. Fuller reasons will be available before 10am tomorrow,” ruled Justice Hungwe.
The amended draft in question, suspends the interviews pending the proposed amendments.
Advocate Sylvester Hashiti instructed by Mr Jonathan Samukange of Venturas and Samukange, represented Mr Zibani, while Mr Ephrain Mukucha, appeared for Justice Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister and the President.
Mr Addington Chinake of Kantor and Immerman law firm acted for the JSC.
However, JSC lawyer Mr Addington Chinake, notified the court of the commission’s intention to note an appeal.
“I wish to place it on record that I have instructions to note an appeal at the Supreme Court tomorrow,” said Mr Chinake before the court adjourned.
In a statement issued yesterday evening, the commission said its lawyers will appeal the decision at the Supreme Court and that the appeal automatically suspends the High Court ruling.
“The appeal will have the effect of suspending the operation of the order until the appeal is determined.
“The commission will be meeting on Monday 12 December 2016 at 9 am to decide whether to proceed with the interviews scheduled in light of the above developments or to postpone the interviews pending the determination of the appeal by the Supreme Court,” reads part of the statement.
Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku will retire from the bench and the Chief Justiceship at the end of February next year, when he will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 years.
JSC in October formally announced the coming vacancy and published press notices inviting the public to nominate suitably qualified candidates for appointment as Zimbabwe’s next Chief Justice. His successor is expected to assume office on March 1 next year.
Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, retires early next year but JSC, in terms of Section 180 of the supreme law of the land, had initiated the process to select the successor through public interviews.
While Mr Zibani’s application was still pending, Mr Mukucha from the Attorney General’s Office produced a Cabinet memorandum by Vice President Mnangagwa to the effect that the process to amend Section 180 of the Constitution was already in motion.
An affidavit by Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Permanent Secretary Mrs Virginia Mabhiza, was also filed confirming the development.
Mr Mukucha also produced a copy of the proposed draft Bill to amend the Constitution.
Mr Romeo Zibani, a fourth year student at UZ, argued that Chief Justice Chidyausiku, who chairs the Judicial Service Commission, had closely worked with all the four nominees and that it was not fair and proper for him to be part of the interview panel.
Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba, Supreme Court judges Justices Rita Makarau and Paddington Garwe, and Judge President George Chiweshe, were nominated to attend the public interviews.
Justices Chiweshe and Malaba are also JSC commissioners, which Mr Zibani said would also compromise the fairness of the interview process.
To that end, Mr Zibani wanted the High Court to order Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to initiate the amendment of Section 180 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe to allow President Mugabe to use his own discretion to appoint a Chief Justice of choice without going through the interview process.
Alternatively, Mr Zibani has proposed the setting up of an independent panel comprising retired judges to preside over the public interviews.
Some of the panellists, according to Mr Zibani, are junior to the four nominees, creating challenges for them to interview their bosses.
Mr Zibani described the relationship between Chief Justice Chidyausiku and the four candidates as “incestuous” adding that it was not fair and proper for the judiciary boss to preside over the selection process involving his colleagues. The Herald