Human rights lawyers have welcomed the Judicial Services Commission’s decision to turn current circuit courts into permanent High Court stations, saying the move will help bring justice closer to ordinary people and help boost their confidence in the country’s justice delivery system.
Speaking to Studio 7 regarding the move, director Irene Petras of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said her organization welcomes and supports the establishment of High Court stations outside Harare and Bulawayo.
Earlier this week at the official opening of the court’s 2016 legal year in Bulawayo, High Court judge president, Justice George Chiweshe, revealed that the Judicial Services Commission was moving ahead with plans to upgrade circuit courts into fully fledged High Court stations.
It is not known how much money would be needed to upgrade each circuit court into a permanent station.
Petras said the move will help ordinary people have better access to the country’s justice delivery system.
“We believe that particularly in a society which is facing serious social and economic challenges, geographical accessibility of the court is very important as people can’t really afford to travel to the main cities in order to access justice. So, we believe it will allow a lot more people to utilize the facilities.”
The country only has two High Court stations in Harare and Bulawayo but the some sessions in Gweru, Hwange/Lupane, Masvingo and Mutare, which handle cases for two weeks in each legal term.
The Masvingo circuit centre will be the first to be converted into a permanent High Court station, and the further establishment of other centres is expected to help ease the backlog of the cases being handled by the Court.
The High Court has hundreds of pending cases.
Programmes director Tineyi Mukwewa of the Abammeli Human Rights Lawyers said the move would also help boost the confidence of ordinary people in utilizing the justice system.
“By making the High Court a permanent feature in the smaller towns what it means is that it’s a shorter distance to travel so it means that people will be able to access justice promptly and they limit the amount of money and time spent in travelling to the Court. So, ultimately people will have more confidence in using the Court as a means to settle disputes."
Petras said besides having the physical infrastructure, there is need to ensure that funds are available for the hiring of competent staff in the additional High Court centers so that the system continues to function efficiently.
“Justice delivery is not just about having the physical infrastructure but also ensuring that we also have capable and efficient personnel who can make sure that every aspect of the justice delivery chain is functioning in the optimum way.”
In his speech when he officially launched the 2016 legal year, Justice Chiweshe said decentralization of the High Court was a common trend both regionally and internationally, and acknowledged that Zimbabwe is lagging behind.
Justice Chiweshe said the move will save costs not only for litigants and practitioners but also for treasury, since it will reduce witnesses’ travel and subsistence allowances as well as expenses incurred by prison and police services in moving prisoners to and from court centres.