Reprieve for Mtetwa and Chin’ono as Judge Annuls Unjustified Sanctions and Disqualifies Magistrate Nduna for Judicial Transgression

HIGH Court Judge Justice Happias Zhou on Tuesday 15 December 2020 set aside Harare Magistrate Ngoni Nduna’s controversial decision barring prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa from representing freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and disqualified the judicial officer from presiding over the criminal trial of the media practitioner.

Justice Zhou granted the order after Mtetwa and Chin’ono in September filed an application for review seeking an order to set aside a ruling by Magistrate Nduna disqualifying the multiple award winning human rights lawyer from representing the media practitioner.

In the application for review filed by Doug Coltart of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and argued by Advocate Taona Nyamakura, Mtetwa and Chin’ono contended that Magistrate Nduna’s ruling was unconstitutional and effectively deprives the freelance journalist of his right to legal representation of his choice.

In his ruling handed down on 17 August 2020 and which sparked local, regional and international outrage, Magistrate Nduna disqualified Mtetwa as Chin’ono’s lead lawyer and ordered Prosecutor-General Kumbirai Hodzi to institute prosecution of the human rights lawyer on charges of contempt of court and asked Law Society of Zimbabwe to take disciplinary measures against her.

Nduna’s controversial ruling came after Prosecutor Whisper Mabhaudhi of the National Prosecuting Authority asked him to sanction Mtetwa for allegedly undermining the court by posting material on Facebook. This was despite Mtetwa telling the court that she had no control over the Facebook page, which is run by an American filmmaker and where some updates on Chin’ono’s court proceedings were posted.

But on Tuesday 15 December 2020, Justice Zhou faulted Magistrate Nduna for transgressing in arriving at his ruling and ruled that it’s not fair for Chin’ono to be tried by the judicial officer.

Justice Zhou said justice which should be objectively and be seen to be done will not be served if Magistrate Nduna is allowed to continue presiding over proceedings in Chin’ono’s matter hence he should be disqualified from participating in the freelance journalist’s criminal trial and ordered that a different Magistrate be assigned to preside over the media practitioner’s criminal trial.

Source: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

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