August 4, 2017
The Honorable Robert Gabriel Mugabe
The President of the Democratic Republic of Zimbabwe
Re: Concerns over Constitution Amendment Bill (No.1) and judicial independence in Zimbabwe.
The undersigned bar associations and organizations concerned with the rule of law respectfully write to note our grave concern over the future of the independence of the judiciary in Zimbabwe. We are a group of independent regional and international bar associations and organizations committed to advancing the rule of law and the independence of the legal profession worldwide. In particular, we are concerned by current attempts to amend the Constitution of Zimbabwe (the Constitution) through Constitution Amendment Bill (No. 1) Bill, 2017 (H.B. 1, 2017) (the Bill) in a manner that will decrease transparency and independence in the selection of judges.
The Bill, particularly Section 6, amends Section 180 of the Constitution and introduces a new appointment process for the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and Judge President of the High Court. The current process provides for the selection of all judges through a system of public nomination and interviews, conducted by the Judicial Services Commission, after which shortlisted candidates are sent to the President for final selection. The Bill seeks to replace this process and instead grant the President the sole discretion to appoint individuals to these three specific offices, which are the highest and most influential positions in the judiciary. On July 25, 2017, the Lower House of Parliament passed the Bill. It will next go before the Senate for further scrutiny and, if passed, it will fall to your Excellency to veto or sign it into law. We write to urge you to exercise your veto power to avoid the appearance of a politicized judiciary.
Numerous civil society organizations in Zimbabwe, including the Law Society of Zimbabwe, have expressed deep concern that this Bill, if passed, will erode the current system for the selection of judges, which is based on the constitutionally enshrined principle of separation of powers and is meant to ensure an independent and impartial judicial system. An independent judiciary is a vital check and balance in a democratic society and essential to maintaining the rule of law.