By Daniel Nemukuyu
Some 1 000 convicted criminals, who appealed separately at the High Court as far back as 2010, but abandoned the appeals after being granted bail, had their challenges thrown out recently when the judiciary embarked on a rigorous audit to cleanse the system of idle files.
To that end, hundreds of warrants of arrest have since been issued out against the convicts who have pending jail sentences to ensure their committal to prison.
Police, armed with the warrants, are now hunting down the criminals.
Scores of the convicts are walking scot-free as the police struggle to serve them with the warrants and take them to court.
The Registrar of the High Court, Mr Donald Ndirowei, in terms of the rules of that court, dismissed the idle criminal appeals between May and July this year in an ongoing files audit.
Most of the criminals in question were convicted of theft, robbery, fraud and traffic offences.
According to official statistics seen by The Herald, at least 371 convicts were from Harare province, while 130 and 74 are from Mashonaland West and Masvingo respectively.
The statistics also show that 147 convicts were from Mashonaland Central, 80 from Mashonaland East and 63 from Manicaland.
Mr Ndirowei directed the magistracy to issue out warrants of arrest in respect of those who have pending prison terms.
Chances are high that some of the convicts have since died, while others could have skipped the borders.
Most of them filed “frivolous” notices of appeal for the purposes of seeking bail, but they abandoned the challenges after tasting freedom.
Some did not pay the relevant fees for the processing of the appeals, while others breached the rules of the High Court on criminal appeals, prompting the court to throw away the challenges.
Others did not bother to inspect the trial records as provided for in the rules.
The appeals were buried among several pending files until the High Court recently embarked on a rigorous audit of all pending appeals and dismissing those deemed abandoned.
Warrants of arrest were issued in respect of the first batch of 489 convicts in May and the documents were dispatched to the respective police stations countrywide.
The first batch consisted 489 appeals filed in 2010.
The second batch of convicts was issued with warrants of arrest a week later and it comprised of 185.
Some 280 appeals filed in 2012 were dismissed last week by the High Court before warrants of arrest were issued in respect of the convicts.
Judicial Service Commission (JSC) acting secretary Mr Walter Chikwana confirmed the development, saying an audit of both criminal and civil files was underway at the High Court to deal with abandoned appeals.
“We are carrying out an audit of all appeal files at the High Court,” he said. “Notices of appeal were filed, but not prosecuted. We have recovered quite a number of records which have been lying idle and were not prosecuted.
“After filing an appeal, one would also file for bail pending appeal. After getting their freedom, they would then abandon those appeals.”
Some appellants failed to prepare records or pay the required fees.
Appellants are required to ensure the record of proceedings is prepared and submitted to the High Court within certain specified periods.
They are also required to pay costs for preparation of the record and some would not pay.
“So, what we are simply doing is to enforce the rules of the High Court,” said Mr Chikwana. “When you don’t arrange for the preparation of the record or pay for the preparation of the record, there are certain consequences that would follow, for example, the appeal may be deemed abandoned. The moment the appeal is deemed abandoned it means there is no longer an appeal before the High Court.”
In terms of the criminal appeal process, the onus to prosecute the appeal lies with the appellant, who can choose to drag or abandon the appeal.
At times, the appellants deliberately change lawyers to confuse the system, resulting in some correspondences from the Registrar of the High Court being sent to wrong addresses.
The Registrar of the High Court in terms of the rules of that court, is now empowered to dismiss appeals for want of prosecution.
Other appeals are dismissed by the judges in court. The Herald