As the opposition activists and others who were arrested for allegedly taking part in the disorders that rocked Harare last week are being brought to the Harare Magistrates Court for remand on charges of public violence or inciting public violence, police are allegedly stopping members of the public from attending the remand proceedings.
Veritas Zimbabwe says the law enforcement agency in contravention with the country’s constitution, is erecting a fence round the court building to prevent civilians from attending.
Under constitutional right to public trials, Section 69 of the constitution states that everyone accused of a criminal offence “has the right to a fair and public trial…. before an independent and impartial court.”
Veritas says the importance of this right to a public trial cannot be exaggerated, as transparency is a cornerstone of the administration of justice. “Legal proceedings both criminal and civil must be held in public so that justice is not only done, but seen to be done. If court proceedings are veiled in secrecy and not exposed to what has been called the ‘searchlight of publicity,’ then injustice and corruption can flourish unobserved,” reads the statement.
The need for publicity in legal proceedings is recognised not just in Zimbabwe, but throughout the world. The principles and guidelines on the Right to a Fair trial and Legal Assistance in Africa issued by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights state;
“In the determination of any criminal charge against a person, or of a person’s rights and obligations, everyone shall be entitled to a fair public hearing by a legally constituted competent, independent, and impartial judicial body (Article 1). Adequate facilities shall be provided for attendance by interested members of the public,” (article 3(c)).
Article 3 (e) states that representatives of the media shall also be entitled to be present at and report on judicial proceedings, except that a judge may restrict or limit the use of cameras during the hearings.
Veritas says although public may be denied to attend criminal proceedings in a court of law owing to various reasons like in case of children and vulnerability of witnesses that may have to be protected from the adverse of the effects of publicity or where interest of State Security, it is in the hands of the court to deny the public from attending. “In these cases it is for the courts to decide whether or not to exclude the public from the proceedings.”
“It is certainly not for the police to do so, as by doing so, they are usurping the powers of the court themselves and they are acting outside the law,” says Veritas. zimnews