Zimbabwe legal system panned by bar leaders

An international coalition of lawyers has slammed the legal system in Zimbabwe.

Bar leaders, including the chair of the Bar of England and Wales Stephen Irwin QC, and representatives from Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, visited Zimbabwe in April 2004 to produce a report on the state of the country’s legal system.

The report, published last week (9 December), paints a shocking picture of violence, arrest and intimidation against Zimbabwean judges and lawyers.

It concluded: “The legal system in Zimbabwe remains in form a civilised and developed, if under-resourced, legal system. In substance, it has been distorted and subverted for the illegitimate maintenance of political power.”

During the visit, the barristers interviewed lawyers, academics, retired judges and students. The barristers amassed evidence alleging systematic erosion of the independence of the legal profession in Zimbabwe.

The report says that the Chief Justice of Zimbabwe Godfrey Chidyausiku was appointed to his role directly from the High Court bench ahead of many Supreme Court justices.

Chidyausiku CJ and other judges are also said to be beneficiaries of the controversial scheme to ‘reallocate’ farms in the ownership of whites to black Zimbabweans.

The President of the Zimbabwe Law Society Joseph James and the Zimbabwean Bar Council both reviewed and approved the report.