A HARARE magistrate has come under fire for refusing to hear the bail application of Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) activists and failing to ensure the heavily assaulted supporters get immediate medical attention despite evidence of severe injuries inflicted by the police.
Magistrate Yeukai Dzuda failed to hear the bail application of the activists who were arrested for convening a car rally in February ahead of the CCC’s maiden rally. The magistrate claimed the courts had closed at 1pm, but the lawyers frowned upon this as unprofessional conduct from a judicial officer.
Video evidence showed heavily armed police officers assaulting the CCC activists with batons and fists at Harare Central Police Station, where they were later charged with public nuisance. In a letter of complaint dated 22 February over the judicial conduct of the magistrate written by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum addressed to the provincial magistrate, the organisation rapped the magistrate, saying her actions were not in line with the constitutional obligations of judicial officers.
“We write to express our serious concern over the conduct of the court in the matter of State versus Eliah Mutsindi and 12 others as presided over by Esquire Yeukai Dzuda on Saturday February 19, 2022,” the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum wrote.
The rights group said the lawyers representing the accused arrived at the courts at 10am, but the court did not sit until 12.35pm.
“Our clients only managed to get audience with the court around 13.20pm and our lawyers appeared on their behalf. There was no address on the issue of the delay but rather a sharp reminder that a court closed its business at 1pm,” the letter read in part.
“Our lawyers sought to make submissions on the manner of arrest and detention of the accused persons, which they believe vitiates on section 50 of the constitution. Among such issues were serious and grave assaults on the accused persons to access medical treatment.”
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said the court declined to hear any submissions relating to that application and proceeded to remand the accused persons to 22 February. “Our lawyers then besought the court for determination of bail for the accused persons. The state, through the attendant prosecutors, submitted that bail was opposed and that there was no time to hear the reasons. The court took the same position despite the insistent plea by our lawyers to be heard on this issue.”
“Once the court maintained its stance, our lawyers, owing to peculiarity of the circumstances faced by the accused in the matter, besought the court that at the very least, medical practitioners should attend to the accused persons to medically attend to the accused on this application.”
“The court inquired the attribute of the state which indicated that it had no instruction on the point. The court then ruled that the matter will be heard when the state had adequate instructions to respond to the matter,” the letter said in part. It could, however, not be immediately ascertained where the state was set to get instructions from.
“We are aggrieved by the conduct of the Magistrate and more specifically in that: the accused persons were unduly prejudiced by the court sitting late and yet insisting on closing at 1pm and thereby not affording them the right to be heard on decisions affecting them,” the lawyers of the CCC activists said.
The attorneys said they were also aggrieved by the magistrate’s failure to hear a bail application that was supposed to be handled as an urgent matter.
“They could not be heard on the issue of access to a medical practitioner which issue is one of law and has no need of ‘instructions’. Our clients are concerned that this was unmindful of the court to unjustifiably cause continuation of the detention.”
“The court weighed heavily in favour of the state and of its own need to close early whilst sacrificing integral human rights and constitutional values our laws hold as most dear.”
“There was no purpose at all served in having the accused brought to court on Saturday except to tick a box of the 48 hours requirement in the constitution, but missing the spirit of it which is to be heard.”
“We really found the attitude of the courts unnecessarily discourteous: it is our legitimate expectation to see the courts exhibiting propriety that shows such an appreciation of its constitutional mandate. As stakeholders of the justice system, we hope to get the best out of our justice system which primarily is realisation of the promise of justice for all who come looking for it in our courts. It is in this spirit that we raise this complaint with you.”
“Whilst we are mindful of the right of our clients to take such matters to a superior court, we believe that this may largely be an administrative issue regarding Saturday court sittings since we personally are yet to encounter any such challenges within the week.”