TENDAI BHEBE IN BULAWAYO
Zimbabwe’s courts should embrace technology in the dispensation of justice, Deputy Chief Justice, Elizabeth Gwaunza has said, amid revelations courts have been scaled down over the past two years due to the adverse impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Gwaunza, who spoke at the opening of the 2022 Legal Year at the Bulawayo High Court, this week, said the courts were paramount in ensuring that justice is not denied or delayed.
“I hasten to point out that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, though traumatic and harrowing in many respects, has reflected a certain truth regarding the use of technology. Various professions have now embraced digitisation in their day to day activities. The legal profession however appears to be slow in catching up with others as we find comfort in our traditional ways of doing things like reliance on hard copies of books, physically appearing in courts and filing of physical documents,” Gwaunza said.
She said the statistics on the performance of the courts showed that the pandemic has had a serious negative effect on the administration of justice during 2021 as the efficiency of the courts was seriously undermined.
This realisation fortified the choice of this year’s theme and the “clarion call that we all have no option but to embrace technology and the digitisation of the courts”
“We cannot allow the pandemic to undermine the efficiency of the courts, to compromise the quality of justice that the populace would have to access and to interfere with the rule of law and the fundamental human rights of our people. As we move forward, we will be engaging with various players in the administration of justice and share with you our expectations on the roles that you can perform in our journey towards the total digitisation of the courts,” Gwaunza said.
Gwaunza said the Bulawayo High Court last year handled 2 590 criminal cases while its civil division dealt with 1728 cases.
She said the courts could not perform at optimum levels due to the constant lockdowns announced by the Government on the back of Covid-19 although judicial officers applied themselves “commendably”.
Gwaunza said of the 2 590 criminal cases handled in Bulawayo, 2 559 were cleared leaving a backlog of 73 while 1 666 cases were dealt by the higher court leaving 62 cases outstanding.
“The High Court received 1 655 civil cases including both applications and appeals in 2021 whilst carrying forward a backlog of 73 cases. The total stood at 1 728. The court completed 1 666 cases by the end of the year leaving a backlog of 62 uncompleted cases.
“The backlog of cases was lower, standing at 62 cases as compared to 73 of the previous year,” she said.
The Supreme Court had a backlog of 66 cases from 2020, including both applications and appeals. It received 61 cases last year, taking the total to 127, and 101 cases were dealt with, leaving 26 uncompleted cases.
The criminal court had 509 cases as at January 1, 2021. It received a total of 6 945 matters making the total 7 454. The court completed 6 441 cases making the number of unfinished matters 1 013 with the backlog more than doubling, Gwaunza said.