The Justice Services Commission (JSC) in Zimbabwe has gazetted the official court calendars for the 2017 legal year.
The calendars show 2017’s court terms and vacations for the superior courts namely, Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, High Court, Administrative Court, and the Labour Court. At the courts will have the same terms and vacations, account for 37 weeks of the year and vacations for the remaining 15 weeks.
The first term begins on Monday 16 January to Friday 7 April 2017, with Easter vacation on Saturday 8 APRIL to 14 May. The second term will commence on Monday 15 and ends on Friday 4 August whose mid-term vacation starts on Saturday 5 August to Sunday 10 September. The third term of the year will start on Monday 11 September to Friday 1 December and the Christmas vacation start on Saturday 2 December to Sunday 14 January 2018.
In each of the three terms, the Supreme, High, and Labour Courts will also sit on circuit, holding brief sessions at centres away from their permanent seats. Under the circuit court calendars there will be sittings of the Supreme Court in Bulawayo on 3 to 7 April first circuit, second circuit on 31 July to 4 August, and third circuit between 27 November and 1 December 2017.
The High Court will also sit on circuit in Gweru, Mutare, and Hwange during the calendar, with the Labour Court doing the same in Mutare, Hwange, and Masvingo.
The 2017 calendar will also witness the decentralisation of the High Court, as the Masvingo bench is now operational. This will make Masvingo the third city to have a permanent High Court seat after Harare and Bulawayo, and the first one after independence. It was opened on 30 May this year by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa who is in charge of the ministry of justice.
High Court criminal cases from Masvingo province, Matabeleland South, Manicaland are now to be tried on continuous basis in the new court, thereby abolishing the need for judges to go on circuit to the province to try cases.
Masvingo High Court will also deal with civil cases, and Master of the High Court in Masvingo operated before the court itself, it will handle not only deceased estates, but other functions of the Master of the High Court.
According to the JSC, the establishment of the Masvingo High Court is just the beginning, as more decentralisation is in the pipe line for provincial capitals like Gweru, Mutare, Hwange, Bindura, etc.
In his address at the beginning of the 2016 legal year, the Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku outlined that the decentralisation of the High Court have been necessitated by the realisation that the number of arrests by police in the provinces is exceeding the rate at which the circuit courts are clearing the cases emanating from the provinces.
He said the decentralisation will be done in stages owing to financial outlays necessary when setting up a permanent court seat.
“What will determine where we are to set up a High Court first will include among others statistics from each province and availability of suitable structures to house the court. This will also influence the number of judges to be deployed,” he said.
It is believed that this decentralisation will improve access to justice and its delivery. The National Prosecuting Authority 2015 annual report that was tabled before the National Assembly by VP Mnangagwa indicated a backlog in High Court cases, where a total of 454 cases were set down with 209 completed, while 165 were partly heard.