COURT WATCH 1/2022
[13th January 2022]
Chief Justice’s State of the Judiciary Address [SOJA]
at the Opening of the 2022 Legal Year on 10th January 2022
On Monday 10th January 2022 the Chief Justice Luke Malaba officially opened the 2022 legal year and delivered his State of the Judiciary Address [SOJA]. The occasion ran with the theme for 2022: “Use of Technology to Enhance Efficiency and the Rule of Law in the Judiciary”.
The complete address is available on the Veritas website [link]. The following is a summary of its highlights.
Need for Efficient Justice Delivery
In his address, the Hon Chief Justice emphasized the need for efficiency in the delivery of justice with consistency and collective effort by all justice delivery players. Efficiency is connected to justice delivery as justice must not be delayed. He further lamented the access to justice challenges that the nation continues to face due to the persistent Covid-19 pandemic.
Meeting COVID-19 Challenges with Technology
To address the challenges, and in line with 2022 legal year theme, the Judicial Service Commission [JSC] will adopt technological measures that are earmarked to reform and transform the current operations in the justice delivery sector.
Integrated Electronic Case Management System [IECMS]
Currently, as the main measure to enhance efficiency through embracing technology, the JSC is finalising processes to introduce the Integrated Electronic Case Management System [IECMS]. The system had been scheduled to be operationalized before the end of 2021 but, due to delays attributed to the Covid-19 restrictive measures, the project could not be finalized and its launch is now scheduled for May 2022. The system will first be implemented in the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court and the High Court’s Commercial Court Division. All players in the justice system – the judges and magistrates and court staff and the JSC itself, legal practitioners, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Office of the Attorney-General, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service – will receive training from the JSC ICT team.
The IECMS will among other things introduce the following in the court system:
· Electronic case filing
· Automatic case allocation to judicial officers
· Electronic case tracking and management from filing to finalisation
· Virtual hearings.
Owing to the urgency of the need to have virtual hearings amid the Covid-19 pandemic – which makes it difficult to convene physical hearings – the Chief Justice indicated that the JSC is urgently working towards setting up equipment for virtual hearings at all its provincial centres and the High Court. These are expected to be operational as soon as possible, even before the anticipated launch of the IECMS in May 2022.
It is hoped that introduction of these measures will go a long way in enhancing efficiency in the justice delivery as well as eliminate the perennial delays in case finalisation.
Changes in Benches of the Superior Courts
In reporting on the state of the judiciary during 2020 the Chief Justice covered the changes in the composition of the benches of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court in May in accordance with the Constitution], and ripple effects, including the promotion of judges from the High Court to the Supreme Court and the need for the High Court vacancies to be filled by the appointment of several new judges. He congratulated Mrs Justice Zimba-Dube on her appointment as Judge-President of the High Court following the appointment of the former Judge President Chiweshe to the Supreme Court.
Judicial Training Institute of Zimbabwe [JTIZ]
In addition to the technological measures, JSC has also established the JTIZ, a training centre that will craft capacity building and training initiatives for members of the judiciary and magistracy and other JSC personnel, in order to enhance their competencies and efficiency. During 2021, the Chief Justice said, the JTIZ successfully organised and conducted an induction programme for the recently appointed High Court judges. It also conducted training workshops for magistrates, research officers and judges’ assistants.
Performance of the Courts during 2021
The Chief Justice’s address included the customary statistics and charts illustrating the performance during 2021 from the Constitutional Court and other superior courts down to the magistrates courts, cases received, cases finalised, case backlogs etc. Cases received and finalised were generally down compared to 2020, attributable to interruptions necessitates by measures against the COVID-19 pandemic. Backlogs at the end of 2021 were generally up as compared to the end of 2020.
The Chief Justice also mentioned completed and pending projects to enhance access to justice. These are mainly infrastructural developments which saw the completion of the courthouses in Mt Darwin and Chinhoyi in 2021. There are other projects that are still work in progress including Gwanda and Lupane Provincial Magistrates’ Courts and renovation of Bristol House that will house the High Court’s Commercial Court Division in Harare.
Challenges to the Judiciary Sector
Challenges within the Judiciary sector were also detailed by the Chief Justice, including:
· Poor remuneration
· High staff turnover [88 resignations, including 18 magistrates]
Limited funding and late disbursements from Government for projects and operations [which, as the Chief Justice remarked, rendered it necessary for the JSC to be assisted by development partners, of whom he made particular mention of UNDP and UNICEF. Without their help the JSC would not have been able to achieve its successes in areas of training, child justice, the setting up of virtual courts and the JTIZ.]