HARARE – Human rights lawyers have slammed the failure by Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) to transport prisoners to court, saying the development blatantly breached the constitutional rights of pre-trial detainees.
It’s been two weeks since ZPCS has failed to bring suspects held under their custody to court for continuation of trials or routine remand proceedings, as its fleet is grounded.
This has clogged the Harare Magistrates’ Courts with an increasing backlog, as most cases are continuously being postponed.
Witnesses billed to testify have been turned away since last week, with some complaining bitterly that postponements were wasting their precious time and resources.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights’ project attorney, Jeremiah Bamu, said failure to bring detainees to court infringed on their right to timely trial.
“What they are doing affects the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time.
“It also restricts the right to liberty of those granted bail as their warrants of liberation cannot be processed,” he said.
“Prisons should be allocated more fuel and prioritise taking prisoners to court,” Bamu said.
“…if possible the courts may have to do special sittings in prison or the State should consent to more bails and more accused persons must be removed from remand and proceed by way of summons when ready,” he said.
Human rights lawyer, Obey Shava, said: “This not only affects the prisoners but the whole system and by now, they should understand that justice delayed is justice denied.”
“The responsible ministry should not just watch the situation go out of hand but must impose measures that ensure that the justice system is not inconvenienced,” he said.
Another lawyer, Kudzai Kadzere, echoed the same sentiments: “One must be tried as soon as possible so failing to bring prisoners to court violates the right to a speedy trial.”
Due to the crisis, those convicted from police cells or remanded in custody are being driven to remand prisons by investigating officers.
ZPCS spokesperson Priscilla Mtembo confirmed that the prisons were battling a worsening fuel crisis and were unable to transport suspects to-and-from court.
“We were waiting for the procurement of fuel and hopefully tomorrow (today) we expect to resume normal court duties.
“We regret the inconvenience that the situation has created but I can assure you that everything will be back to normal soon,” she said.