Magistrate Resigns In Protest At Interference From Attorney-General's Office

It was during the trial of Alec Muchadehama (left, leaving Magistrates' Court in Harare), that Ms Mutongi's troubles began, after she cited a State Prosecutor from the Attorney-General's Office for contempt. She has known no rest since and has been humiliated in addition by seeing her decisions reversed after another Magistrate was appointed to take over from her in the State Prosecutor's case. She has now resigned, citing "interference from some quarters" - clearly the Attorney-General's Office itself.

Harare, Zimbabwe, 09 November 2009

One of Zimbabwe best-known Magistrates, Ms Chioniso Mutongi, has resigned from the Ministry of Justice, citing interference from "some quarters".

Mutongi's resignation arises directly from the way she handled a case involving a lawyer, Alec Muchadehama, who was facing trial for "defeating the course of justice." Muchadema, it will be recalled was arrested for doing his job, which was to take a court order to a Judge's chamber in order to get his clients (who are MDC-T activists)  released from Prison.

During the Muchadehama's trial, the State prosecutor made an objection, which Ms Mutongi overruled. The State prosecutor responded with "Tsk", which led the Magistrate to cite him for contempt of court.

Although he was taken immediately into custody, the prosecutor was released on the same day on US$30 bail "pending review". When he was called back for that review by Mutongi, she found herself taken off the case. Another judge heard the matter and granted the prosecutor bail.

Her life has not been the same since. She claims that she has received threatening phone calls and find it impossible to work because the Chief Magistrate's Office is not giving her the protection due to a Magistrate in the matter.

In her letter of resignations, she says:

"I resign from the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs forthwith. My resignation has been occasioned by events that were glaringly unethical and unprofessional in the manner I ought to have discharged my duties as a magistrate without fear or favour.

"To put the event into proper perspective, your office (Chief Magistrate’s) recalls very well the unpleasant experiences I went through when I tried to impartially handle the matter of State versus Alec Muchadehama and another.

"I had a torrid time during which I was entirely abused and harassed at the hands of the State prosecution, but I did not get professional protection from this office as I reasonably anticipated.

"Further to this, I only learnt with dismay that another magistrate had granted Andrew Kumire bail pending appeal in unclear and dubious circumstances wherein I am the trial magistrate for that particular case.

"I only recused myself from handling the case of Alec Muchadehama and another and not the Kumire case. That was a misnomer.

"I do not believe that I would be able to discharge my duties as a duly trained magistrate given that level of interference."

"How can a person whose committal to prison has been confirmed by the High Court on review, be granted bail pending appeal by another magistrate when the trial magistrate has not recused herself from that particular matter?" she asks in her letter.

Clearly, the Magistrate, although not naming them, suspects that the Attorney-general's office is behind this harassment that she is going through. As a professional (she has handed down several very brave decisions during her time in office), she feels that it is better to resign than to be put in a position where prosecutors will no longer have any respect for her in court, knowing that they will be able to claim that she has something against Attorney-General's staff.

I wonder: how long will it be , do you think, before you hear that she has emigrated and is now based in Namibia or Botswana (the two countries who have in the past hired our bravest and most professional judges who find it impossible to work in Zimbabwe's courts)?


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