Court Watch 2015 - Southern African Chief Justices Conference at Victoria Falls

COURT WATCH 2015

[15th September 2015]

Southern African Chief Justices Conference at Victoria Falls

Southern African Chief Justices' Forum Conference: Victoria Falls

The Southern African Chief Justices' Forum Conference was held at the Victoria Falls from 27th to 30th August.  The event was co-hosted by the Judicial Service Commission of Zimbabwe, the Southern African Chief Justices' Forum and the International Commission of Jurists.  The Forum has been in existence since 2008 and has held previous conferences in Botswana, South Africa, Uganda, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.  The overall objective of the conference was to provide space for judiciaries in the Eastern and Southern Africa region to share achievements, best practices and innovations in justice delivery.

Conference Theme

The theme of the Conference was Guaranteeing the Right to a Fair Trial in Africa; Showcasing Best Practice”.  Participants considered topics such as how jurisdictions in the region have used innovations to enhance fair trial rights in their countries, and how reforms in appointment procedures of judges, judicial training initiatives, and other reforms have contributed towards achieving fair trial rights in various countries.  

Attendance

The Conference was attended by 13 Chief Justices and 120 senior judges from East and Southern Africa, including a contingent of over 20 Zimbabwean judges.

Chief Justice Chidyausiku’s Speech

Chief Justice Chidyausiku, who chairs Zimbabwe’s Judicial Service Commission, addressed the Conference on The Role of Judicial Service Commissions in Enhancing Judicial Independence and Ensuring the Right to a Fair Trial [soft copy of whole address available from Veritas].  He acknowledged the need for debate on how to minimise or reduce to insignificance “the perception that the judiciary in every jurisdiction is subject to extraneous influence” and to ensure that in cases of economic or social significance the courts not only act, but are seen to be acting, independent of any political or other interest.  

Judicial independence, he reminded his audience, is not for the benefit of judges, the Executive or the Legislature: “judicial independence is for the benefit of all those who approach the courts for relief, the governed and governments included.  It guarantees the impartial application of the law which is what constitutes fair trials at all levels and between all litigants”.

On the Zimbabwe experience, the Chief Justice explained the position of the Judicial Service Commission and said that through the Commission the Zimbabwean judiciary is enjoying “an acceptable level of independence” in four areas:

- budgetary control

- general administration of the courts

 - independence to drive and implement judicial reform

- judicial accountability

Independence of the Judiciary does not preclude permissible linkages with the other two arms of State he said.  Government appoints and pays the salaries of judges.  But these linkages are not secret wires through which the Executive can make the Judiciary dance to its tunes.  The Judicial Service Commission, he said, ensured that the inevitable linkages between the Judiciary and the Executive and Legislature had been achieved through an ‘acceptable arms-length relationship”.

On judicial reform, the Chief Justice mentioned the achievements of the Commission over the last few years, and mentioned that his office is supervising the Commission’s project for the revamping of all court rules to rationalise them and make them uniform across all courts wherever practicable.  He also referred to improvements in the keeping of court records and communication with litigants and the use of computer technology in tracking and managing cases.

In his address to the conference the Chief Justice mentioned that through a very simple and home-grown tracking system developed by the Judicial Service Commission, he as Chief Justice could now track any case filed in the civil registry, enabling him to tell how many judgments each court has rendered over a given period against the number of cases filed.

Other Presentations

Other presentations included:

- discussion of possible regional standards for judicial training institutions

- the constitutional reforms undergone by the judiciary in Kenya.

Conference’s Concluding Statement

The Conference issued a Concluding Statement [full text available from Veritas].  Highlights include that the Conference decided:

- to establish an ad hoc team of Judicial Service Commissions from the region to work towards developing regional principles and guidelines on selection and appointment of judges, to be presented to the Annual Conference of 2017

- to work toward the establishment of a regional judicial training institute or programmes

- to adopt technological approaches to reduce or eliminate case backlogs to ensure timely dispensation of justice.

 

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