Tainted aspiring judges exposed

15 May, 2024 - 17:05 0 Views
Tainted aspiring judges exposed Chief Justice Luke Malaba

The Sunday News

Harare Bureau 

SEVERAL candidates aspiring to join the High Court bench found themselves falling short of the standards expected of the top judicial office as their professional and social conduct haunted them at the public interviews that entered the second day yesterday.

The judiciary’s merit-based selection system for top judicial officers, aims to ensure that the selection process is fair, objective, complies with constitutional provisions regulating such processes and transparent. The outcome of the process must produce a person imbued with the qualities of an ideal judge whose appointment is merited.

And the public interviews were not an easy stroll in the park for some candidates who found themselves exposed for their unprofessional conduct and chequered social lives.

A set of standard questions was put to each candidate by the panel chair Chief Justice Luke Malaba after which each of the commissioners was then given an opportunity to put more questions to the candidates.

Once the Chief Justice handed the candidates to the commissioners for questioning, Pandora boxes were opened leaving them scratching their heads for answers.

And yesterday regional magistrate Mr Ngoni Nduna who is aspiring to be a judge was grilled over the US$30 000 loan he took from CBZ to finance his farming operations, but refused to pay back the loan, raising the defence of prescription.

Deputy Chief Justice Elizabeth Gwaunza raised the issue with Nduna saying: “We have information suggesting that there has been a slew of complaints over the years against you, but will zero in on one alluding to a 2018 letter from CBZ Bank that you took a loan amounting to US$30 000 and you were refusing to pay. Summons were issued and you raised a defence of prescription.

“Is it true that you did not pay the loan?”

In his response, Mr Nduna conceded that he did not pay back the loan and sought to explain that CBZ Bank was to blame for creating a situation that made it impossible for him to repay, after the bank allegedly failed to supply him with nitrogen fertiliser that would have made him produce enough to enable him to pay back the loan.

But DCJ Gwaunza said there were concerns over Mr Nduna’s conduct asking him: “Is that conduct one would expect from an aspiring judge? Failing to honour agreements of a contract you freely entered into and then seek to hide behind the façade of the law, blaming the lender for not, having taken you to task earlier, to recover their money?”

Kadoma-based lawyer Mr Ignatius Murambasvina performed well, but his biggest undoing was a pending disciplinary action. He is set to appear before the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal over allegations of unprofessional conduct. Though he sought to argue that the matter was withdrawn and the company that had made the complaint was under liquidation, the probe is still pending at the High Court.

On Monday, senior lawyer Mr Musindo Hungwe Dunhira did well answering the standard questions with aplomb. However, it was when he was handed over to the commissioners that the chickens came home to roost.

He was asked why he thought he was suitable for the esteemed office of a judge when he was failing to maintain his children. It emerged during the questioning that Mr Hungwe has defied several maintenance orders, failing to maintain his children and a police report has been made against him.

In his response, Mr Hungwe could not advance any meaningful submission to prove his suitability for selection in the face of the legal troubles haunting him.

Regional magistrate Mr Stanford Mambanje had a bad day in office, after he was quizzed about 15 of his judgments that were quashed by the High Court as wrongful. This, again brought into question his suitability to be appointed to the High Court bench.

If anything, this only suggested his incompetence as a judicial officer.

Former regional magistrate Bianca Makwande was grilled over sentencing a rapist to 16 months in jail instead of 16 years. Her defence was not plausible.

Another candidate and magistrate Mr Innocent Bepura was quizzed over driving a JSC vehicle without authority, while Tinevimbo Gatawa forged a board resolution at Bindura University Science Education.

Mutare magistrate Tilda Mazhande also found herself mired in controversy after being issued with several warning letters for misconduct. The questions that placed these candidates in an awkward position emanated from adverse comments received from members of the public or other professional bodies and organisations.

Such allegations or complaints are publicly revealed to enable the affected candidate to comment on them.

The practice is that the candidate will have been advised of this in advance to allow him/her to prepare a response to them if any. The 2013 Constitution ushered a paradigm shift in the method used for appointment of judges.

In the previous system, persons regarded as suitable for the office of judge would only be “tapped on the shoulder”.

The criteria for determining suitability for appointment was known only to the Executive, leading to the perception that the process was based not on merit, but on political patronage.

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