Constitution Watch 1/2016


[8th January 2016]

Constitutional Court Death Penalty Case:

To Seek Relief for Long-Term Death-Row Prisoners

Date:         Wednesday 13th January 2016

Venue:      Constitutional Court, Mashonganyika Building, Samora Machel Avenue, Harare (next to High Court building)

Time:         9:30 a.m.

Case No:   CCZ 47/2015 Chawira & Others v Minister of Justice & Others

Please Attend the Court Hearing

This case has been instituted by Veritas.  This is a public interest matter and Veritas urges all those who have been working to abolish the death penalty to attend this case which is a step to further this objective.

Note there will be two cases heard this Wednesday – this case and a case to compel the setting up of an independent mechanism, under 210 of the Constitution, to receive complaints about the conduct of the security forces.  It is not known which case will be heard first.

The Constitutional Challenge

This is a case brought by 15 prisoners who have been on “death row” – i.e. in prison awaiting execution – for periods varying between four and 20 years.  They are seeking an order that their death sentences be commuted to life imprisonment because:

- Section 53 of the Constitution protects everyone, including convicted prisoners, against torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

- The long periods they have spent in prison awaiting execution, never knowing from one day to the next when they would be hanged [because death-row prisoners are not told in advance of the date and time of their execution] amount to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

-Therefore, the applicants argue, they cannot now be executed.

The applicants rely on judgments of the Supreme Court which laid down as long ago as 1993 that it was cruel, inhuman and degrading to keep prisoners under sentence of death waiting for long periods for their sentences to be carried out.  Although there is a de facto moratorium on executing prisoners – the last execution took place in 2005 – the moratorium has not been written into law and could be lifted at any time.

The court papers for this case are on the Veritas website.  Please use the following links [Ctrl + Left Click]—

Applicants' Founding Affidavit in Chawira & 13 Others v Minister of Justice & 2 Others

Supplementary Heads of Argument in Chawira & 13 Others v Minister of Justice & 2 Others


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