JUSTICE Wilson Sandura, an eminent jurist on the Supreme Court bench, has died in a horrific car accident, with colleagues saying the judiciary has been robbed of one of the finest legal brains in the country.
The high-profile judge left the bench at the end of July, before the Supreme Court went on its month-long break in August.
Justice Sandura, the most senior judge in the country after serving for nearly 30 years, would be remembered as a forthright and fearless judge who saved his country with a constant mind, both in good and turbulent times.
The top judge had served on the Supreme Court since 1998. He was a High Court judge between 1983 and 1997, and was judge president from 1984.
Zimbabwean judges are required to retire when they reach 65 years, but if they can demonstrate good mental and physical health to a doctor, they can stay on up to the age of 70.
The president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, Tinoziva Bere, said justice Sandura made some of the best judgments on record in this country.
“He was constant and stayed the course like a candle that continued to burn and bring light to a dark room. He is principled and courageous and he can be proud of the service he rendered to the cause of justice and the rule of law in this country,” Bere said.
“He endured service under conditions, which some could not tolerate and resigned. Some of the best judgments on record in this country carry his name; sadly some of them had to be dissenting judgments in the Supreme Court.”
“The judiciary is poorer without the skill he goes away with. We hope he is available to save this country in other capacities to advance the cause of justice,” said Bere .
Another prominent defence lawyer, Jonathan Samkange, said Justice Sandura enriched the judiciary process in Zimbabwe adding that from a judicial point, he is a national hero.
“He brought out the jurisprudence aspect in his judgments. I compare him with two English judges, Lord Denning and Lord Wilber-force. There is Lord Denning, Lord Wilberforce and Justice Sandura.”
Some of the retired judge’s notable judgments include the case of Movement for Democratic Change treasurer, Roy Bennett, whose application for early release was dismissed by Chief Justice Chidyausiku following the politician’s sentencing to an effective year in prison by Parliament after flooring Justice Minister, Patr-ick Chinamasa.
Justice Chidyausiku said Bennett’s one year sentence, though “severe, is not grossly disproportionate to the offence” but the Sandura said: “I respectfully disagree with it.”
Sandura also passed a dissenting judgment in the case of former Judge Benjamin Paradza, stating that President Robert Mugabe had erred in using his powers to select members of a tribunal that probed the judge.
In 2002, the judge also differed with Justice Chidyausiku’s judgment on a media case on the issue of compulsory accreditation of journalists under the Access to information and Protection of Privacy Act.
He said compelling journalists to register was clearly ultra vires the Constitution as it violated Section 20 of the Constitution.
In 2009, the law society awarded Sandura the Walter Kamba Rule of Law Award, named in honour of the late Professor Walter Joseph Kamba, a law professor and scholar credited for being the driving force behind the expansion and transformation of the University of Rhodesia into the University of Zimbabwe.
In 1989, Justice Sandura became a household name in Zimbabwe after presiding over the Sandura Commission that claimed the political careers of several ministers following a vehicle scandal, commonly referred to as the Willogate scandal.
For more than seven weeks, the Sandura Commission called 72 witnesses, including six Cabinet ministers, two deputy ministers, three Members of Parliament, two senior army officers and 40 directors and managers of private companies.
During the hearings, some Cabinet ministers threatened commissioners, but Justice Sandura stood his ground and threatened two of them with arrest.
Leaked United States cables on developments in the judiciary in the country, said the judge “was widely respected for his non-partisan reading of the law and is viewed as one of the two last remaining independents”.
In one secret meeting with US officials, Justice Sandura allegedly criticised some of his colleagues and accused Zanu PF of pressurising judges to issue judgments in its favour.