The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) has taken a Zimbabwean judge to task for ordering that punitive action be taken against the lawyers representing the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
High Court Judge Chinembiri Bhunu made the order during the hearing of the recent election legal challenge launched by the MDC against the Electoral Commission, which has now been withdrawn.
Judge Bhunu said that lawyers acting for MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai – Lewis Uriri, Alec Muchadehama and Tarisai Mutangi – be subjected to punitive action by the Attorney General and prosecuting authority.
Judge Bhunu’s order was in reaction to the inclusion in the papers submitted before the court by Tsvangirai, which stated that the “judiciary is not independent from the executive, and politically, from ZANU PF”.
He was not too happy either with the claim that President Robert Mugabe appointed numerous judges to the High Court, Supreme Court and Constitutional Court without consulting then Prime Minister Tsvangirai, in violation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and the new constitution.
According to Judge Bhunu, these statements amount to an attack on the dignity and integrity of the judiciary.
The SALC said it was alarmed by the order. “Judge Bhunu makes this outrageous punitive order directed at the lawyers ostensibly to protect the integrity of the judiciary,” said Nicole Fritz, Director of SALC.
“But there can be no surer way of bringing the courts into disrepute than by having a judge issue orders in clear contravention of the uniformly recognised and upheld principles protecting the legal profession.”
The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers stipulate: “Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.”
It added: “Lawyers shall enjoy civil and penal immunity for relevant statements made in good faith in written or oral pleadings or in their professional appearances before a court.”
“Bhunu’s order appears calculated to intimidate lawyers and ensure that those who find themselves in opposition to the new Zimbabwean government will battle to find legal representation, despite constitutional entitlements,” said Fritz.
“We call on judge Bhunu to rescind his order and for the judiciary in Zimbabwe to respect the role of lawyers.” GNA