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JSC fights to repossess Mercedes from judge fired for freeing Sikhala

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has filed an urgent chamber application at the High Court to repossess a Mercedes Benz vehicle issued to former judge, Justice Erica Ndewere who many believe was sacked by President Emmerson Mnangagwa as punishment for granting bail to opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) Vice Chairman Job Sikhala in 2020.

Mnangagwa predictably fired Justice Ndewere on June 17 last year in terms of section 187(8) of the Constitution.

Observers, however, think she was punished for granting bail to Sikhala in the case he was facing charges of inciting public violence.

According to the court papers, Justice Ndewere is cited as the applicant seeking relief for the preservation order that a Mercedes Benz E300 registration number ADY4743 be kept and stored by the sheriff and that it should not be used in any way pending final determination of matter number HC 3117/22.

She had two vehicles allocated to her: a Land Rover Discovery 4 and Mercedes Benz E300.

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She was allowed to purchase the Land Rover Discovery 4 on April 9 last year, according to the papers.

Justice Ndewere, at the time of removal from office, retained possession of Mercedes Benz E300. The vehicle is registered in the name of the Master of High Court, her former department.

However, on April 19 this year, JSC demanded that Justice Ndewere return the vehicle, but she refused on the basis that she was entitled to purchase it.

The JSC told her that she no longer had the option to purchase it since she was not a sitting judge.

Justice Ndewere, who was represented by Beatrice Mtetwa, opposed the application, saying the JSC was not the owner of the vehicle arguing that the owner was the Office of the President and Cabinet.

“The applicant (JSC) does not administer the applicable conditions for the motor vehicle scheme. The respondent (Justice Ndewere) is entitled to purchase the vehicle and, hence, must not return the vehicle.

“The fact that the respondent is no longer a sitting judge does not preclude her from exercising the right to purchase the vehicle. No demand for the vehicle had been made prior to April 19, 2022.

“The vehicle was damaged due to an accident and further it is not licensed nor is it insured. She has not been using the vehicle for her private business since December 2020,” Mtetwa submitted.

But the JSC submitted that they approached the court after Justice Ndewere refused to return the vehicle and High Court judge, Justice Samuel Deme then ruled that in favour of commission.

“The applicant is a statutory body established in terms of the Judicial Service Act. Thus, the vehicle in question qualifies to be public property as it is registered in the name of the applicant. Section 308(3) of the Constitution places an obligation upon the appropriate authorities to safeguard the public property of the entity concerned.

“The respondent averred that the vehicle got damaged through the accident which occurred in December 2020. The applicant’s counsel submitted that given that the vehicle is now damaged, the present application becomes even more urgent,” he ruled.

Justice Deme said JSC had, therefore, proved that there was a prima facie right to ownership of the vehicle and a reasonably arguable case under case number HC 3117/22 which deserves protection pending litigation.

Mnangagwa established a Tribunal in 2020 to inquire into Justice Ndewere fitness to hold office after the JSC accused her of keeping a backlog of 28 outstanding judgments. She denied the charges arguing that out of 17 judges she was being singled out for victimisation.

The hearing was heard before a three-member tribunal led by retired judge Justice Simbi Mubako.

Mnangagwa eventually fired her citing “gross incompetence”.