Chief Justice Luke Malaba has made an ignominious u-turn on an earlier directive he made requiring all judges of the High Court or Labour Court to pass for review and approval their judgments or the judge president before they are handed down.
The directive was issued last Friday.
However, the chief justice Friday amended the directive with new instructions the judgments or orders should be reviewed by the heads of the court, division, or station.
“In paragraph 2, I have removed ‘approved’ and it should read ‘Before a judgment or order of the High Court of Labour Court is issued or handed down, it should be seen by the head of the court/station/division,” Malaba said.
However, the amendments have received strong condemnation from several quarters.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said the directive was an unacceptable assault on the principle of independence of the judiciary.
“The modification makes no difference to the provision in the directive, which remains a concern. The principle of judicial independence is two-pronged and encapsulates both institutional and individual independence,” the lawyers said.
“Institutional independence relates to the ability of judges to work in an environment free of any external influence; it reinforces the concept of separation of powers between the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary. In this case, the individual independence of judges is under threat.
“Individual independence relates to independence of the judges and their ability to hear and decide cases that come before them impartially without influence from internal or external sources and without any fear or favour. Individual independence of judges means that they have a duty and are enabled to decide cases before them according to the law, free from fear or personal criticism or reprisals of any kind, even in difficult or sensitive cases.
“The administration of justice by transparent, accountable, competent and independent judicial officers is something ZLHR and Zimbabweans at large value immensely. It is the hallmark of a constitutional democracy.”
The ZLHR said it regarded the matter with grave concern and believes that the chief justice must completely withdraw the offending provision in the directive.
However, the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) said it was was not ready to comment on the issue as it was still engaging its stakeholders.
“The Law Society is consulting and engaging stakeholders over the issue,” said Richard Chidza, LSZ communications manager.
Former minister, Jonathan Moyo said the directive exposed Malaba’s control instinct.
“Chief Justice Malaba has made an embarrassing U-Turn on his bizarre directive that exposed his control instinct. He’s amended it,” he said.