By Farayi Machamire
The appointment process of retired Chief Justice (CJ) Godfrey Chidyausiku’s successor has lost credibility due to political interference, a legal watchdog — Veritas — has said.
It said the race to replace Chidyausiku, who retired last week after reaching the retirement age of 70, has been marred by Zanu PF infighting.
“It is most unfortunate that the appointment of a new CJ seems to have fallen prey to political factionalism,” Veritas said in a statement.
“Even the appearance of political involvement in the appointment process diminishes the authority and prestige that should attach to the office. It is to be hoped that whoever finally becomes CJ will be able to reassert the independence of his or her office and of the judiciary as a whole,” it said.
Even Chidyausiku has echoed the same sentiment.
In a valedictory speech delivered at a dinner hosted in his honour last Monday evening, he said: “There are times when things do not go the way they should… one of them is the way we are quarrelling about my successor… it is really a big disappointment.”
“I would have wanted to leave one very united judiciary that is fearless, independent and with a backbone of steel,” Chidyausiku added.
The CJ saga came in the spotlight mid-October last year when the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) advertised the vacancy and invited the public to attend open interviews of qualified candidates keen on the job.
Four candidates were nominated and the JSC announced it would interview the candidates in public on December 12.
However, on December 7, days before the interviews were to be held, an urgent application was lodged in the High Court for a provisional court order blocking them until Section 180 of the Constitution could be amended.
It was lodged by 25-year-old Romeo Zibani, a law student “who apparently has the financial resources to engage in public-interest litigation — one of the fairy-tale elements of this saga,” Veritas said.
Zibani argued that the current procedure under Section 180 of the Constitution is improper because it involves judges who sit on the JSC having a say in appointing the head of the Judiciary.
Justice Charles Hungwe treated the application as urgent even though the interviews had been public knowledge for months before going on to hear the application on December 9.
On the eve of the interviews on December 11, Justice Hungwe ordered that the interviews should not be held.
The JSC immediately lodged an appeal automatically suspending Judge Hungwe’s order so the JSC went ahead with the interviews on December 12.
Only three candidates were interviewed, the fourth did not appear.
On January 3, 2017, a Bill to amend Section 180 of the Constitution was gazetted.
On February 13, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court heard the JSC’s appeal against Judge Hungwe’s judgment.
“One of the judges on the bench, Vernanda Ziyambi, was recalled from retirement after other eligible judges had recused themselves.
“The court allowed lawyers representing the Law Society of Zimbabwe, Beatrice Mtetwa and a Bulawayo organisation called Abammeli Bamalungelo Abantu Network of Human Rights Lawyers to deliver arguments as “amici curiae” or friends of the court in support of the appeal.”
“The three judges unanimously allowed the appeal and set aside Justice Hungwe’s order.
“The Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs ministry then made two announcements.
“The first one that it had requested, and received from the JSC for submission to the President (Robert Mugabe), the JSC’s list of three nominees in terms of section 180 of the Constitution and secondly, that in terms of section 181(1) of the Constitution the Deputy Chief Justice will act as Chief Justice with effect from March 1 until a substantive appointment is made. Luke Malaba is the acting CJ since Wednesday last week.
“On February 22, Zibani applied to the Constitutional Court for an order setting aside the Supreme Court’s judgment on the grounds that the appointment of retired Judge Ziyambi to preside in the appeal was unconstitutional.
“And so the saga unfolds. No doubt there will be many more twists and turns in its plot before it comes to a conclusion,” Veritas concluded. Daily News