Constitutional amendment undermines judicial independence

Zimbabwe ImageHARARE, ZIMBABWE: The International Commission of Jurists, Geneva, has expressed concern over the passing of Constitutional Amendment no. 1 of 2017 by the House of Assembly of Zimbabwe on 25 July 2017.

The House of Assembly voted with over two-thirds majority for the amendment of the Zimbabwean Constitution.

In a statement released to yesterday ICJ called upon the government of Zimbabwe to reconsider its decision to amend the Constitution in the manner proposed in the bill.

The amendment grants the President the right to appoint to office, the Judge President of the High Court, the Deputy Chief Justice and the Chief Justice of Zimbabwe.

Before this amendment the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) spearheaded the process of selection and appointment of judges with the President merely appointing from candidates recommended to him by the JSC.

The enactment of this Bill to law is likely to have a negative effect on the public’s perception of the judiciary. It also has the potential to affect the impartiality and the independence of the judiciary.

“The amendment to the 2013 Constitution will negatively affect public confidence in the judiciary. Not only is this a departure from a position that was in line with international standards and best practices; the amendment is likely to have a ripple effect on the judiciary,” said Arnold Tsunga, the ICJ Africa Director.

“In the short term the executive now has a carrot, which it can dangle in front of judicial officers. If a judge wants to be promoted to Judge President, Deputy Chief Justice or Chief they may have to align themselves with the thinking of the executive. Over time, given the central roles that these three office bearers play in the appointment process and thought leadership, Zimbabwe is likely to have a very executive minded bench,” he added.

The procedure in section 180 of the constitution had distinguished Zimbabwe’s appointment procedures as exemplary in the region.

It is unfortunate that through this amendment the country has failed to consolidate this leadership position.

The amendment would be regressive and poses a real risk of undermining the essential role of the judiciary in securing the rule of law in Zimbabwe.