TRADITIONAL leaders have demanded that the government treat them in the same manner as judges and magistrates, arguing that they dispensed justice to the grassroots majority in rural areas through the high volumes of cases they adjudicated.
Speaking on the sidelines of a capacity building workshop for traditional leaders organised by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) at a Masvingo hotel yesterday, Chiefs’ Council president Chief Fortune Charumbira said they handled more cases than magistrates and judges, yet they were not paid, but the latter had fixed monthly salaries despite presiding over fewer cases.
“Chiefs are not paid for trying cases yet magistrates and judges are being paid,” he said.
“In fact, they have a fixed salary despite the few cases they handle per month.
“We cater for the majority of people who stay in rural areas, who access justice through the local courts.
“Proportionally, we handle more cases than the JSC, yet they give much support to courts that serve 30% of the population. We bring justice to the grassroots.”
Charumbira said chiefs got around $15 per month for trying cases and some traditional chiefs would be tempted to charge more.
“Litigants pay $5 for a case to be heard and the chief will be with other advisors and they end up with only $2 per case and per month can only get $12 to $15,” he said.
“Some chiefs may be tempted to overcharge litigants or fabricate cases so that they pocket more money as they take it as a source of pay.”
He said their courts were underfunded and chiefs had resorted to using their own money to acquire summons, stationery and other documents.
“Community courts and primary courts have been neglected in terms of resources. We lack stationery,” he said.
“We are not catered for in the JSC budget. Chiefs now use their own money to acquire summons and other court records. For the past five years, we have had no funding.
“Even after the new dispensation, the JSC has not yet taken the local courts on board.
“They still exclude us. We also face capacity building problems as we are not trained. We do not have a basic background of trying cases and skills for conflict resolution and mediation.
“Magistrates have refresher courses, yet we rarely get capacity building programmes like this one.”
Chiefs have in the past demanded resources such as guns, diplomatic passports, new motor vehicles, farms and a share of the proceeds from the 10% community share ownership scheme garnished from foreign-owned mining companies.