CORRUPTION escalated in Zimbabwe’s magistrates’ courts in 2013 and most legal practitioners preferred taking their cases to the High Court resulting in a heavy backlog, Judge President Justice George Chiweshe said yesterday.
Officially opening the 2014 judicial and legal year at the Bulawayo High Court, Justice Chiweshe said the ever-increasing workload at the High Court was a cause for concern.
“The bulk of the work that we receive relates to civil matters, though criminal matters have also been on the ascendancy,” he said.
“What should be done? It is tempting to seek the usual solution . . . increase number of judges. In my address last year I indicated a number of issues that need urgent attention. These include the creation of an intermediate civil court linking the High Court and the generality of the magistracy.”
He said that role must be played by the regional magistracy, a task they already carry out with regards to criminal matters.
“At present the Regional Court only hears criminal matters. It should in addition be clothed with civil jurisdiction at appropriate levels to enable it to play its intermediary role.
“I’m aware that a number of logistical and human resources constraints must be addressed to enable such a structure to function effectively. The necessary resources must be made available and soon,” said Justice Chiweshe.
He said the High Court was inundated with civil matters which fell within the jurisdiction of the Magistrates’ Courts.
“Legal practitioners and litigants tend to shun the Magistrates’ Courts preferring to file all manner of cases with the High Court, thereby flooding this court with petty cases.
“This trend doesn’t augur well for the efficient administration of justice. Some of the reasons proffered by the legal practitioners for shunning the Magistrates’ Courts include corruption, poor registry practices, inexperienced judicial officers, poor infrastructure and inadequate support services. Without adequate funding, continuous training of all staff and attractive conditions of service, these problems will not go away,” he said.
Justice Chiweshe said unless legal practitioners took time to practice at the Magistrates’ Courts and therefore become part of the solution, not much progress would be achieved.
He also said the Labour Court judgments and arbitral awards must for purposes of execution be registered with the High Court or the Magistrates’ Court.
“In our view, there is no plausible argument as to why any court should be burdened with the execution of judgments emanating from another court. We urge the authorities to address this anomaly with the urgency it deserves.
“The High Court is inundated with applications to register these judgments and awards thereby unnecessarily increasing the workload in this court.”
He said they had recommended, to no avail, that the regional magistrates’ powers of scrutiny in criminal matters be raised to higher levels in order to reduce the number of cases mostly involving minor offences being referred to the High Court for automatic review.
Justice Chiweshe said there were considerations on whether to create further stations of the High Court and the current circuit courts centres to be turned into permanent High Court stations.
“These are in Gweru, Hwange, Masvingo and Mutare. It might also be prudent to include Gwanda in that exercise. Statistics presented by the Prosecutor-General’s Office indicate a significant and growing number of criminal cases being processed at all the above centres. It’s clear to me that unless we respond timeously to these developments, the situation will deteriorate.”