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Outcry over judges’ conduct dents judiciary’s credibility

THE judiciary has come under spotlight following an increase in the number of complaints against top judges at a time there is a raging debate about judiciary independence.

Since the coming of the ‘Second Republic’, some judges have been implicated in gross misconduct and alleged corruption, triggering questions about the credibility of the some members of the bench.

Several judges have been dragged before tribunals while some have already been dismissed. Some are battling an albatross of complaints at the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). So far complaints have been raised against Deputy Chief Justice Elizabeth Gwaunza, Justice Catherine Bachi-Mzawazi and Justice Webster Chinamhora  (whose case is before the JSC ethics committee), among others. Other top judges who have since been relieved of their duties are Francis Bere, Erica Ndewere, and Thompson Mabhikwa.

Judiciary sources told the Zimbabwe Independent that a jump in the number of complaints against top judges was worrying.

“There have been complaints against the judiciary and some have been of a criminal nature, which is worrying. The number of complaints against top judges kills confidence around the judiciary system and a lax approach by JSC to deal with some of the complaints has further complicated the situation,” the sources said.

The debate around the judiciary situation, came after Women’s  Comfort Corner founder Rita Mbatha filed another letter of complaint against Deputy Chief Justice Elizabeth Gwaunza seeking intervention from JSC on allegations of “unlawful alteration of the transcript of proceedings”.

The complaint emanated from a case where Mbatha was having a lease agreement dispute under case number SC 443/21.

Gwaunza, who was leading the bench on the matter is alleged to have proceeded with hearing the case despite indications by Mbatha that she was not feeling well and could not attend court. A ruling was made, which saw Mbatha demanding a transcript of proceedings.

In a letter addressed to JSC secretary Walter Chikwanha dated November 10 2022,  Mbatha accused Gwaunza of abuse of power. She pleaded with the JSC to deal with the matter.  “The Deputy Chief Justice unlawfully altered the transcript to prejudice me irremediably. I attach proof of the allegations which I make for ease of reference. It is common cause that the transcribers seized with the transcriptions are the only people who can certify that the transcription is accurate and correct.

“The unlawful corrections noted at the Supreme Court in the file under file No SC 443/21 are evidence of blatant illegality. It is material that I complained about the bias against me and she is aggressively retaliating against me,” Mbatha alleges. She further alleges that Gwaunza’s actions were unconstitutional. Mbatha is seeking the JSC to act against Gwaunza. “As the complainant, I am seeking the intervention of the JSC to deprecate the Honourable Judge's conduct as such conduct hardly conduces to the protection of the dignity, independence and effectiveness of the judiciary. “Kindly note that as the complainant,  I am not requesting legal guidance but lodging a complaint about what I consider to be misconduct on the part of the Deputy Chief Justice. I need protection; the naked harassment is egregious. I am kindly requesting that this complaint be circulated to all commissioners,” Mbatha said. In another letter dated November 7 2022, Mbatha said what is happening at the courts “is unpardonably louche”. Mbatha further noted that the information that she needed in her head of argument to be filed with the Constitutional Court was deliberately ommitted. JSC spokesperson Daniel Nemukuyu did not respond to questions posed by the Independent.

Recently Mbatha also wrote to Chikwana alleging threats and harassment by Justice Catherine Bachi-Mzawazi.

Mbatha complained to Chikwana that Bachi-Mzawazi wanted to force her to consent to the setting aside of a judgement under case number HC49862014. Under the case, Mbatha was awarded US$180 000 by the High Court after she lost her job for reporting her former boss for sexual harassment in a nearly 20-year legal battle.  Mbatha reported the former Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) CEO  Farai Bwatikona Zizhou for sexual harassment when she worked as his assistant between 2002 and 2003. The CZI responded by sacking her. There is also another recent complaint against the top judge from businessman Tendai Mashamhanda over misconduct allegations.

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