Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku has called for the physical separation of the Constitutional Court from the Supreme Court to ease pressure on overwhelmed judges.
The judges double their duties in both courts.
Officially opening the 2016 legal year in Harare yesterday, the Judiciary boss also proposed the establishment of a specialised court, a division of the High Court to deal with commercial law matters in line with Government’s thrust to improve ease of doing business in the country.
Chief Justice Chidyausiku said it would be ideal to have a stand-alone team of judges of the Constitutional Court, who do not sit as Supreme Court judges, to ensure quality justice and to clear backlogs in the two superior courts.
The nine judges of the Constitutional Court also sit as the Supreme Court judges although the numbers are reduced.
In most cases, three judges constitute the Supreme Court while more complex appeals may require up to five judges.
In August last year, Chief Justice Chidyausiku, who sat in both courts and had other administrative functions, announced his decision to stop sitting as a Supreme Court judge and only sit as a Constitutional Court judge on realising he had too much on his plate.
Chief Justice Chidyausiku said all challenges the few judges faced in clearing the backlog and having to issue extempore judgments than detailed judgments, would disappear if the two upper courts were separated.
“On our part, we have flagged the need for physical separation of the Constitutional Court from the Supreme Court,” said Chief Justice Chidyausiku.
“With Constitutional Court judges dedicated to constitutional matters only, we believe that the backlog may be arrested,” he said.
“I am aware that there is concern mainly from the legal profession on the relatively few judgments coming from the Supreme Court and the fact that most cases are disposed of on the basis of court orders.
Again, in my view, the situation can only be corrected by the physical separation of the Constitutional Court from the Supreme Court,” he said.
“Before that happens, it will be too onerous an expectation for the Supreme Court judges to complete many cases and write many judgments as well as discharge their Constitutional Court mandate concurrently. One of the desired results may yield,” he said.
Chief Justice Chidyausiku hailed the judges of the two courts for a job well done despite a backlog created by the pressure of work.
“In marking the opening of the 2015 legal year, I commended the judges of the Supreme Court who also act as judges of the Constitutional Court for a job well done,” he said.
“I wish to commend them once again for rising to the occasion in 2015. Whereas they completed 52 constitutional applications in 2014, in 2015 they managed to clear 768 cases.
“Again, I mention that this feat was achieved in addition to and notwithstanding their additional workload in the Supreme Court,” he said.
The Supreme Court judges, according to the Chief Justice, completed a record 610 cases in 2015, up from 333 in 2014.
However, of the 610 cases, only 81 detailed judgments were issued while others were cleared on the basis of court orders.
Chief Justice Chidyausiku said plans were underway to set up a specialised commercial law court to improve ease of doing business in Zimbabwe in line with calls from the Executive.
“I am also happy to report that the judiciary has readily embraced the current efforts by the executive to ease doing business in Zimbabwe.
“To this end, we are working on the modalities of establishing a stand-alone commercial law court, as a division of the High Court, to deal with commercial law matters speedily,” he said.
“We believe that the setting up of this court, with judges dedicated to commercial law matters, will not only ease the doing of business in Zimbabwe but will mark the beginning of specialisation in our High Court as a means of improving on overall efficiency,” said Chief Justice Chidyausiku.
Acting President and the overseer of the Ministry of Justice, Parliamentary and Legal Affairs, Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa graced the occasion.
Harare Metropolitan Province Minister Miriam Chikukwa, Attorney General Advocate Prince Machaya, National Director of Public Prosecution Mrs Florence Ziyambi, senior police officers, prison officers, lawyers and other dignitaries attended the event.