The ICJ welcomes the decision by the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe to invalidate the enactment of Constitutional Amendment Bill (No. 1) of 2017 in Gonese and Anor v Parliament of Zimbabwe and 4 Ors. The judgment restores important Constitutional guarantees for the independence of the judiciary in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe adopted a new Constitution in 2013 and one of the progressive elements of this Constitution was its provisions regulating the appointment of judicial leaders such as the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and Judge President of the High Court. These judicial leaders perform important administrative functions with a huge impact on access to justice for the public.
For example, the Chief Justice is the head of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and therefore, presides over processes to select and recommend candidates for judicial appointment.
The Judge President is responsible for case allocation in the High Court and therefore, selects judges to sit on cases. It is important that the procedures for appointing these judicial leaders be transparent and independent of executive control in order to maintain the independence and impartiality of judges as well as promote public confidence in the judiciary.
The 2013 Constitution ensured this by prescribing procedures which accorded the executive a constrained role in the selection and appointment of these judicial leaders.
For example, the process of selecting these office bearers was to be led by an independent Judicial Service Commission (JSC) which would publicly advertise the vacancies, shortlist candidates, conduct interviews that are open to the public and recommend candidates for appointment by the President. The President was required to appoint only from the shortlist submitted by the JSC.
In 2017, the then-President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe signed into law a constitutional amendment bill which sought to change these provisions and give the President the authority to select and appoint these judicial leaders without conducting public interviews and without being constrained or restricted to the shortlist provided by the JSC.
The enactment of this constitutional amendment bill was challenged in the Constitutional Court on grounds that the amendment had been adopted and enacted into law without following due process.
In its judgment, the Constitutional Court concluded that, “It is declared that the passing of Constitutional Amendment Bill (No. 1) of 2017 by the Senate on 01 August 2017 was inconsistent with the provisions of s 328(5) of the Constitution, to the extent that the affirmative votes did not reach the minimum threshold of two-thirds of the membership of the House. Constitutional Amendment Bill (No. 1) of 2017 is declared invalid to the extent of the inconsistency. The declaration of invalidity shall have effect from the date of this order but is suspended for a period of one hundred and eighty days, subject to the provisions of paragraph 1(b).”
The Court directed the Senate to conduct a vote in accordance with the procedure for amending the Constitution prescribed by s 328(5) of the Constitution within one hundred and eighty days of the order given. Failure to do so will render the declaration of invalidity of Constitutional Amendment Bill (No. 1) of 2017 final, said the Court.
Commenting on this judgment, ICJ Africa Director Arnold Tsunga said: “This is a positive judgment which underscores the vital principle of legality, particularly that changes to the Constitution must be processed and enacted in strict accordance with the laid out procedures. Respect for the Constitution, and ensuring the independence of the judiciary, are fundamental elements of the rule of law; both are advanced by this judgment.”
The decision by the Constitutional Court comes at a time when the Parliament of Zimbabwe has gazetted further proposed changes to the Constitution, which amongst other things seek to give the executive a stronger role in the selection and appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court.
These proposed changes would undermine judicial independence and undercut public confidence in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. Further, these proposed changes are contrary to international and African standards. For instance, the United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary enjoin member states to ensure that “Any method of judicial selection shall safeguard against judicial appointments for improper motives.”
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa further provide that, “The process for appointments to judicial bodies shall be transparent and accountable and the establishment of an independent body for this purpose is encouraged.” The ICJ therefore, calls upon the government of Zimbabwe to reconsider its decision to proceed with these proposed changes to the Constitution.
Arnold Tsunga, t: +26377728 3248; e: firstname.lastname@example.orgNewsWeb stories