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Magistrates admit judiciary is ‘highly captured’ by politicians and Malaba

Some Zimbabwean magistrates have admitted that the judiciary is “captured” by politicians and Chief Justice Luke Malaba who reportedly continues to “interfere” with their judgements.

This was revealed in a damning open letter to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) and the Auditor-General, by magistrates who preferred anonymity presumably to avoid intimidation.

They accused Malaba of using “his henchman”, the JSC secretary Walter Chikwana to interfere with magistrates’ rulings and determining who gets bail or not.

“The capture of the judiciary by politicians has reached such high decibels that those of us who are magistrates are now embarrassed to even disclose our professions.

“We have become objects of derision not only in the streets but also in the courts where it is clear that even litigants no longer have respect for our courts and our authority,” read part of the letter.

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“Sadly, the issue of capture is no longer a perception but a reality. And the saddest part of this capture is that it is not spearheaded by the politicians. The kingpins of judicial capture are in the JSC itself and led by none other than the Chief Justice whose henchman is Mr Chikwana.

“It is an open secret at the magistrates court that there is a coterie of magistrates who exclusively deal with certain types of cases, particularly those deemed to be politically motivated.

“These cases are exclusively given to captured, willingly or unwillingly, magistrates in the so called Anti Corruption Court, whether or not such cases fit the corruption label.

“This is why political cases including members of the opposition are placed before the so-called Anti-Corruption Courts to ensure that the result desired by the Chief Justice who instructs the Chief Magistrate through Mr Chikwana, is given by the captured ACC magistrates.

“Lawyers can argue themselves hoarse before these magistrates and their clients will never get justice as everything is done in terms of instructions from the JSC.”

The allegations of judicial capture are raised at a time when courts are operating on a controversial basis, jailing opposition activists and denying them bail.

Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) deputy national chairman Job Sikhala and fellow legislator Godfrey Sithole were brought to court movie style
Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) deputy national chairman Job Sikhala and fellow legislator Godfrey Sithole were brought to court movie style

Main opposition MPs Job Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole who were arrested for allegations of inciting public violence have spent more than 115 days in jail and are yet to be tried.

The letter further raised the issue of poor remuneration for magistrates. They said this is happening when JSC top officials are getting hefty salaries and allowances.

“Magistrates are currently remunerated at such low levels across the board that the public would be embarrassed to even know the figures. Only those magistrates in the Anti-Corruption courts receive undisclosed extra remunerations in addition to being given motor vehicles.

“These salaries are well below what a judicial officer should earn to sustain a lifestyle expected of this office. These salaries should be contrasted against the opulence displayed by those in high positions within the JSC.

“Apart from driving top of the range motor vehicles and arranging mortgages for their own accommodation, plus other perks, one also has to look at the JSC workshops where wastage becomes evident. Meals consumed at JSC workshops at one sitting would feed magistrates’ families for a week.

“Some of us will be consuming such sumptuous meals for the first time in our lives and as the upper echelons of the JSC hold regular workshops, it would be interesting to look at the annual budget for workshops as contrasted against the annual budget of magistrates’ salaries and perks.

“A provincial magistrate’s salary is less than the perks of what the likes of Chikwana receive per month,” the magistrates complained.

Walter Chikwana
Walter Chikwana

The magistrates denied being corrupt but accused lawyers and members of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) of taking bribes.

“Then there is of course the issue of corruption recently highlighted as being rampant in the magistrates court. It is a fact that Zimbabwe is currently at its most corrupt in its history right across the board and the courts are not and cannot be an exception.

“However, the impression given that the magistrates court is the most corrupt within the justice sector, and that magistrates are the kingpins of corruption is not correct.

“There is no denying that corruption exists at all levels of the justice system but some of the corruption being ascribed to magistrates is in fact misdirected as some unscrupulous police, clerks, lawyers, prosecutors will ask for bribes alleging that there is a cut for the magistrate when in fact the magistrate knows nothing about this.

“This is not to say that there are no corrupt magistrates. From reports received from colleagues who are clerks/researchers for judges, there is more corruption in the High Court than anywhere else in the There is also as much fear amongst the judges as there is in other branches of the judiciary,” read the letter.

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