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Chief Justice cracks whip on judges

CHIEF Justice Sakoane Sakoane has ordered all judges to deliver judgements accompanied by written reasons within 60 days of hearing a case. In a circular last week, Justice Sakoane condemned as unacceptable the “practice of reserving judgments for months and years before they are delivered”.

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“This practice, which denies litigants their section 12 rights under the constitution, brings the administration of justice into disrepute,” Justice Sakoane said.

In the circular directed to all judicial officers, he also observed that some judgements do not reflect dates of hearing as is the practice in the superior courts.

“This deliberate omission to record the dates is done with the aim of concealing the period it took to deliver judgements,” he said.

“Going forward, presiding officers should record on the face of judgements the dates of hearing and delivery. This is absolutely necessary for public accountability and measurement of judicial industriousness.”

Justice Sakoane said when a judge is unable to deliver a judgment within the stated period they must inform litigants in an open court and the head of the court in writing, stating their reasons.
“The reasons should be filed in the judicial officer’s personal file,” he said.

When it is the head of the court who is guilty of such dereliction of duty, they must provide written reasons to the Registrar of the High Court marked for the attention of the Chief Justice “for necessary action”.

“Judicial officers must keep yearly records of their judgements. This will help them in good stead when they apply for promotion and elevation to the high bench,” he said.

Justice Sakoane recalled a case in which a Deputy President of the Labour Court took 10 years to deliver an ex tempore judgement following a written complaint to the Chief Justice.

Ex tempore is a Latin term that means ‘at the time’.

A judge who hands down a decision in a case immediately after hearing it is said to be delivering a decision ex tempore.

Justice Sakoane’s order comes after the Court of Appeal this months raised concerns of delayed justice in a case which a High Court judge took 10 years to deliver a judgment.

The case was heard on December 11, 2013 and judgment was only delivered on November 12 last year.

Four officers from the Ministry of Communications had asked the court to intervene in a labour dispute over their remuneration and the government’s new pay structure.

The Court of Appeal said the delay of about 10 years in delivering judgment “amounts to a violation of their constitutional right to a fair trial within a reasonable time guaranteed by s 12(8) of the Constitution”.

“If it is that the judge was merely not diligent enough, as it seems, it suffices for present purposes that this judgment be referred to the Chief Justice for possible transmission to the Judicial Service Commission for its consideration,” it said.

In 2021, Court of Appeal President, Justice Kananelo Mosito, complained about the same issue of judges not delivering judgements on time.

Justice Mosito disparaged the High Court judges who never bother to give reasons for their decisions.

He said the Court of Appeal, since 1997, had been complaining about High Court judges who fail to give reasons for their judgements.

“We appeal to the learned Chief Justice to prevail over those judges of the High Court who don’t provide reasons for their decisions to do so,” Justice Mosito said.

“The importance of the right to be given reasons for an adverse decision should not be underestimated, since in their absence the person affected may be unable to judge whether to challenge it,” he said.

Justice Mosito said judges owe it to litigants and the proper administration of justice to give reasons for their judgements.

Staff Reporter

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