High Court Dismisses Residents’ Bid to Stop Public Hearings on Amendment of Constitution as Judge Reserves Judgement on Habakkuk’s Challenge

HIGH Court Judge Justice David Mangota on Tuesday 16 June 2020 dismissed an urgent chamber application filed by Chitungwiza and Manyame Residents Association (CAMERA) and Alice Kuvheya, a resident of Chitungwiza, seeking an order to stop Parliament from conducting public hearings on some proposed amendments to the Constitution.

In dismissing the urgent chamber application, Justice Mangota ruled that some citizens, who felt disenfranchised from participating in the process of contributing their views on the proposed constitutional amendments as they feared putting their health and lives at risk by attending the public hearings at a time of the outbreak of coronavirus, have an alternative remedy of making their submissions to Parliament in writing.

Through the urgent chamber application filed on Wednesday 10 June 2020 by Tonderai Bhatasara of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, in which Parliament, Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda, Senate President Mabel Chinomona and Attorney-General Advocate Prince Machaya, were listed as respondents, CAMERA and Kuvheya had argued that conducting public hearings at a time when the country is reporting increased numbers of people testing positive to coronavirus, is a negation of the efforts being done by those committed to arresting the spread of the pandemic and is also an abrogation of the purpose and spirit of provisions contained in section 141 and 328 of the Constitution.

CAMERA and Kuvheya argued that Parliament, Mudenda, Chinomona and Advocate Machaya have not indicated any measures that they have put in place in order not to breach the coronavirus regulations and citizens’ constitutional rights.

The residents association and Kuvheya said there is a real danger of the accelerated spread of coronavirus if the public hearings are held at a time of the outbreak of the pandemic.

CAMERA and Kuvheya wanted the proposed public hearings to be declared to be in contravention of section 56, 67, 141 and 328 of the Constitution as well as Statutory Instrument 83/2020 as read with Statutory 199/2020 as further read with Statutory 110/2020.

The proposed public hearings, CAMERA and Kuvheya said, should be postponed until such a time when the national lockdown has been lifted and when there is no longer a health threat of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, in Bulawayo, High Court Judge Justice Nokuthula Moyo on Monday 15 June 2020 reserved judgment on an urgent chamber application filed by Habakkuk Trust seeking an interdict barring Parliament, Clerk of Parliament Kennedy Chokuda and Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Hon. Ziyambi from holding public meetings in Bulawayo or anywhere in Zimbabwe to discuss amendments to the Constitution until the health pandemic and resultant national lockdown caused by coronavirus currently afflicting Zimbabwe is over.

Justice Mangota reserved judgment after hearing submissions from Job Sibanda of ZLHR, who represented Habakkuk Trust and other lawyers who represented Parliament, Chokuda and Ziyambi.

In his application, Sibanda argued that Zimbabwe is currently facing a health pandemic which had necessitated the imposition of a national lockdown, where public gatherings were virtually banned to try and curb the spread of coronavirus.

Habakkuk Trust argued that by conducting public hearings to discuss some proposed amendments to the Constitution, Parliament, Chokuda and Ziyambi were putting the health of the public at risk at a time of the coronavirus pandemic.

The conduct of Parliament, Chokuda and Ziyambi, Habakkuk Trust said, is grossly unreasonable and holding public hearings at a time of the outbreak of coronavirus would defeat the very noble purpose of inviting the input of the public to any proposed constitutional amendments.

Habakkuk Trust said while the process of soliciting for input into the proposed constitutional amendments cannot be stopped, it must await normalisation of the situation in the country and no prejudice will be suffered by the respondents namely Parliament, Chokuda and Ziyambi.

The process of soliciting for people’s input into the proposed constitutional amendments, Habakkuk Trust said, should be stopped and only proceeded with after the country shifts to Level 1 stage of the national lockdown, which is the period which prevailed before the outbreak of coronavirus and before a State of Disaster was declared by government in March.

Alternatively, Habakkuk argued that if Parliament, Chokuda and Ziyambi intend to proceed with the public hearings in the midst of the current health pandemic, they must ensure that all precautions are taken to prevent and contain the disease at such public gatherings.

Source: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

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