THE southern parts of the country’s High Court circuit centres are planning to upgrade into fully-fledged High Court stations, but financial constraints are scuttling the efforts, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku has said.
BY SILAS NKALA
In a speech read on his behalf by Judge President George Chiweshe during the official opening of the first term of the 2016 legal year in Bulawayo yesterday, Chidyausiku said the Judicial Service Commission had planned to decentralise its operations to some provinces across the country but was constrained by budgetary constraints in the short term.
“The present circuit court centres, namely Gweru, Hwange, Masvingo and Mutare, shall be upgraded to the status of permanent fully-fledged High Court stations,” he said.
“The development is long overdue. Owing to budgetary and other constraints, it is not feasible to so decentralise in the short term. Suffice to say that the programme would unfold gradually.”
The Chief Justice said a decision had already been made to first upgrade the Masvingo circuit court centre.
“Decentralisation will bring the court closer to the people, thereby improving access to justice. It will have a cost benefit for both litigants and practitioners,” he said.
“It will save Treasury money with regards witnesses’ travel and subsistence expenses, reduced transport and related expenses incurred by prisons or police in moving prisoners to and from court circuits.”
He further said the decentralisation programme had received overwhelming support from stakeholders, legal practitioners, Prosecutor General’s Office, Law Society of Zimbabwe, government departments and the public.
“It is important to bear in mind that the intention is to create permanent fully-fledged High Court stations at the provincial level. It has been suggested by some quarters that all we need are stations that deal only with criminal trials,” he said.
“Statistics on the ground justify the establishment of permanent stations.”
He said the soon-to-be established Masvingo High Court would in fact operate as a regional rather than provincial court.
“We foresee some litigants in the neighbouring provinces of Midlands, Matabeleland South and Manicaland preferring to file their matters at the court because of proximity. Similarly, the police and prisons are likely to realign their operations accordingly.”
The Chief Justice, however, was irked by the report produced by the Chief Registrar indicating there were 46 889 inactive files clogging the High Court civil registry which comprises summons and applications dating back to 2002.
“If one were to add to this figure, the dormant cases filed after that date, the total number would be well over 50 000 cases.
Of the above figures, more than 20 000 are idle summons and applications which were never served upon the defendants or respondents,” he said.
He said this had resulted in an inflated backlog.
Chief Justice Chidyausiku said the High Court last year lost a Bulawayo-based judge in charge Justice Andrew Mutema.
He said six judges – three females and three males — were appointed in 2015 while the High Court has a complement of 32 judges, 26 of them in Harare and six based in Bulawayo.
“Therefore there will be need to appoint more judges during the course of 2016,” he said.