A Catalyst for transformative justice delivery
National Magistrates Conference
July 11, 2023
The judiciary plays a pivotal role in protecting and safeguarding people's rights that are enshrined in Zimbabwe's Constitution. Section 165 of the Constitution bestows upon judicial officers, a responsibility to administer justice so that people can enjoy their civic and political rights. As a guardian of rights, the judiciary is obligated to fulfil its mandate independently and impartially without fear. Collaborative efforts between the judiciary and other institutions can strengthen its effectiveness in contributing to democratic governance and the rule of law.
Zimbabwe's 23rd of August 2023 harmonized elections are fast approaching and with support from the UNDP Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Capacity Building (ZIM-ECO) project, the Judicial Services Commission included the theme of elections in its Inaugural Magistrates National Conference. The event involved more than 200 judicial officers and bolstered their expertise in resolving electoral disputes in partnership with Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
"Training judicial officers fosters judicial independence and the respect of important principles that underlie the delivery of justice. In his opening remarks, " equitable justice is the essence of sustainable justice," said the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Mr. Edward Kallon.
Making a presentation on the role of magistrates in electoral justice, the Chief Justice of Zimbabwe, Honourable Justice Luke Malaba highlighted that judicial officers ensure free, fair and peaceful elections per national laws and international standards.
“Magistrates must ensure that the law protects and safeguards the right to campaign freely and contest in an election. The law must enable the citizenry to be sufficiently informed about candidates and their manifestos. Magistrates should therefore be sensitive and stand firm against violence by dealing with electoral matters expeditiously,” said Honourable Justice Malaba.
Judicial Officers broadened their understanding of the international, regional and national legal framework that they can utilize to administer justice during the election period. Understanding diverse statutory instruments and their application will help judicial officers to pass judgments. Pointing out principles governing elections, the Deputy Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, Ambassador Rodney Kiwa urged judicial officers to familiarize themselves with laws and statutes as they govern electoral integrity and standards for free and fair elections.
“It is important to adhere to these international and regional standards or obligations and the principles enunciated therein when conducting elections for them to be viewed as upholding the universally recognized democratic tenets,” said Ambassador Kiwa.
Electoral dispute resolution is one of the primary roles of judicial officers and it is therefore important for them to be aware of electoral laws. An understanding of electoral laws can help to guide the administration of justice when cases are brought before the courts.
"The role of magistrates is to preserve the integrity of the electoral process. When sentencing electoral offenses, judicial officers must apply laws stipulated in the Electoral Act and the Criminal Procedure and Criminal Law Code. The purpose of designating magistrates in Electoral Dispute Resolutions (EDR), is for them to assume their roles as protectors, and defenders of electoral freedom, fairness, and human life," said Dr. Tarisai Mutangi.
The conference also highlighted how violence against women hampers their participation in elections and judicial officers' role in ending the scourge by granting justice to survivors.
"In electoral contexts, violence against women negatively impacts the realization of women's political rights. Magistrates should ensure impartiality when dealing with survivors and sentences meted out on perpetrators must have a deterrent effect and curb impunity," said Nicea Gumbo from UN Women.
The ZIM-ECO support of the National Magistrates' Conference contributes to sustainable development by promoting access to justice and building effective, accountable, inclusive institutions.
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