BY VENERANDA LANGA
THE Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has rallied behind government’s proposed Constitutional Amendment Bill, especially on sections to do with extension of judges’ tenure after reaching retirement age, saying “judges like wine, get better with age”.
The JSC, however, said it was uncomfortable with the President extending the tenure of judges in consultation with the JSC as it takes constitutional democracy backwards.
JSC acting secretary Walter Chikwanha told Parliament on Thursday that amendments to Clause 14, which advocates for extension of the judges’ tenure on an annual contract basis had the potential of violating independence of the judges.
Chikwanha made the remarks when he appeared before the Misheck Mataranyika-led Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice to speak on the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No 2 Bill, particularly on clause 13 and 14, which he said were pertinent to judges.
He also said the proposed constitutional amendments on judges left out judges of the Labour Court in terms of promotions.
“As the JSC, we have agreed that when a person, who is already a judge, wishes to be appointed to the Supreme Court, there is no need for them to go through interviews to be considered for promotion,” Chikwanha said.
“We have already debated on section 180 of the Constitution, where some have argued that it refers to a vacant position for a judge, and when someone has already been interviewed to be a judge, there is no need again for that person to be interviewed for the Supreme Court.
“So, it is unfair for that person to be put through rigorous interviews because we had a situation where we had brilliant judges in the High Court who have chosen not to be considered for promotion to the Supreme Court because they do not want to go through public interviews and so they remained in the High Court.”
Mutare Central MP Innocent Gonese (MDC Alliance) asked Chikwanha to explain why sitting judges would feel embarrassed to go through public interviews again.
“You said they are brilliant judges and if a person is brilliant and competent on writing judgments, why would they not be prepared to be subjected to interviews again?” Gonese asked.
“I have been listening to some of the interviews where judges are asked how many judgments they have written, and as practicing lawyers, we have come across situations whereby judges reserve judgments forever and those are some of the embarrassments we come across.”
Chikwanha also told the committee that the JSC supports extension of tenure of judges from 70 years to 75 years as it was something practised in democratic states.
“Judges are like wine, they get better with age. A more experienced judge is better in propagating and application of the law and development of jurisprudence in the country. The issue of good health is the only reason that should worry us,” he said.