A joint letter signed by the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales and the Bar Council of England and Wales has been sent to the President of Zimbabwe calling for him to veto a Bill proposing changes to judicial appointments that would threaten the independence of the judiciary and undermine the rule of law in Zimbabwe.

 

The bill would amend the Constitution to introduce a new appointment process for the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and Judge President of the High Court. The changes would give the President sole discretion to appoint individuals to these positions, which are the highest and most influential positions in the judiciary. On 25 July, the Lower House of Parliament passed the bill. It will next go before the Senate for further scrutiny, and if it passes will be placed before the President to veto or approve the bill into law.

 

BHRC and the Bar Council joined the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, the Law Society of British Columbia and SADC Lawyers Association in urging the President of Zimbabwe to veto the bill if it is passed by the Senate.

 

BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC said:

“The independence of the judiciary is vital to the preservation of the rule of law and a democratic society. Once again, we find the independence of a nation’s judiciary threatened by an attempt to alter the mechanisms of appointment.. BHRC encourages the Senate in Zimbabwe to act to preserve the rule of law and prevent the continuance of this bill. BHRC  respectfully urges the President to take the necessary steps to ensure the independence of the judiciary is protected. “

Chair of the Bar of England & Wales, Andrew Langdon QC, said:

“We are deeply concerned by the current attempts to amend the Constitution of Zimbabwe and introduce a judicial appointment process which is wholly inconsistent with the principles of impartiality and the separation of powers. The independence of the judiciary is an essential component of the rule of law. The credibility of a government that adopts this method of appointing the senior judiciary is doubtful, signalling as it does, indifference to judicial impartiality. We hope that, as other countries have recently done, the Senate and if necessary the President, use their power to ensure that Zimbabwe steps back from the brink of making a fundamental mistake.”

You can read the full letter to the President of Zimbabwe here.