Friday, July 30, 2004

Zimbabwe: Tsvangirai almost found guilty

The judge hearing the treason case against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was prepared to pass a guilty verdict yesterday ... except that the two lay assessors requested the court records and transcripts of the case, forcing the judge to postpone delivering the verdict.
Authoritative judicial sources said the two assessors in the case, Misheck Nyandoro and Joseph Dangarembizi, had vehemently disagreed with the judge's guilty verdict and refused to rubber stamp his decision. This left [Judge Paddington] Garwe with no option but to postpone the case.(source)
Why this matters ...
Zimbabwe has no jury system and cases are routinely tried by a judge sitting with two lay assessors. Matters of law are decided by the judge alone. Questions of fact must be resolved by a majority of the panel of three.

The verdict in the trial of Mr Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, was due to be delivered in Harare's High Court yesterday [July 29]. Treason carries a possible death penalty. But the procedural concerns expressed by the two assessors forced a postponement.

Lawyers say this is the first time in Zimbabwe's history that judgment has been delayed in such circumstances. "I've never heard of this in my 30 years in law," said Adrian de Bourbon, a former chairman of Zimbabwe's Bar Association. (source)
The judge hearing the case ...
Zimbabwe High Court Judge President Paddington Garwe, widely perceived as a Mugabe supporter, presided over the treason case with the aid of two assessors.

[...] During his tenure Judge Garwe has passed several decisions that favoured Mugabe. In 2002 he turned down an opposition application to extend the number of voting days in the presidential election. This was despite long queues of stranded voters in urban centres who had not had a chance to vote.

Garwe's alleged guilty verdict would probably end Tsvangirai's political career as he would have no chances of succeeding at the Supreme Court which has been converted into an even more loyalist branch of the Zimbabwe government. But the two assessors may still save Tsvangirai if they disagree with Garwe. (source)