Chief Justice Malaba condemns intimidation of judges in political cases; warns against ‘vexatious, errant, and unrelenting litigation’


HARARE – In his address on Tuesday officially marking the commencement of the 2024 legal year, Chief Justice Luke Malaba claimed that the rule of law was severely undermined in 2023 as litigants failed to respect the outcome of court decisions and resorted to misinformation and attempted intimidation tactics against the judiciary. 

Chief Justice Luke Malaba opens 2024 legal year, condemns intimidation of judges in electoral cases
No to errant litigants ... Chief Justice Luke Malaba delivering his keynote address marking the official opening of Zimbabwe's 2024 legal year. 

The Chief Justice specifically referenced the elections period last year, claiming that “errant” litigants sought to damage the integrity of the courts and the judges when they lost their cases in court, stating that seven judges had fallen victim to misinformation and intimidation tactics. 

He said that during the elections period, “disparaging and damaging remarks” were hurled against the judiciary and some judges of the Supreme Court and High Court.

“The unwarranted aspersions stemmed from decisions which the courts had made. Even more concerning was the fact that the disparaging remarks were made by some members of the legal profession who are expected to have known better,” the Chief Justice bemoaned. 

Malaba said that where legal practitioners were involved in attacking the reputation and integrity of the judiciary after court decisions did not go their way, engagements were made with the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) to resolve these differences amicably; stating that such engagements were fruitful. 

The country's top jurist said that there were notable instances where litigants who lost cases went on a “tirade” casting doubts on the integrity of the judiciary and the courts, thus eroding public confidence in the justice delivery system. 

“They raised unfounded allegations of corruption, threatened, and attempted to intimidate judicial officers who would have made decisions against them. At the last count, seven judges had fallen victim to the vile misinformation and intimidation,” Malaba stated. 

Malaba further issued a stern warning against “vexatious and unrelenting litigation” by “errant litigants” whose conduct is driven by self-interest and not public considerations, saying that this undermines public confidence in the independence of the entire administration of justice system. 

He said that the respect of law premised on constitutionalism demands that litigants comply with and adhere to the decisions of the courts. 

“Constitutionalism discourages vexatious and unrelenting litigation by litigants whose conduct is directed at undermining public confidence in the independence and integrity of not only the judiciary but the entire administration of the justice system,” Malaba said.

Malaba however encouraged judges not to be reluctant from making decisions on account of baseless complaints and allegations raised against them by vexatious litigants.

“It cannot be the norm that justice can only be said to have been done when the disposition is inclined to a particular outcome favoured by a litigant in question. It will be an affront to the doctrine of constitutionalism and the essence of the rule of law if judges were to allow themselves to be intimidated by errant litigants who lose cases in court,” he said.

“In pursuing the entrenchment of constitutionalism, the judiciary thus notes that vexatious litigation, unrestrained denigration, threats and spurious complaints against judicial officers have no place in a country controlled by a constitutional order.”

He maintained that his comments were not intended to shield the courts and judges from fair scrutiny, adverse comments and criticism of their judgments and decisions, saying that judges should embraces “constructive criticism” in line with the tenets of a constitutional democracy. 

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