4 June 2009
Magistrate grants application by lawyer accused of "obstructing the course of justice"
(MISA/IFEX) - On 1 June 2009, Harare magistrate Catherine Chimanda granted an application for refusal of remand by prominent media and human rights lawyer, Alec Muchadehama. In her ruling, the magistrate noted that the State had failed to furnish the court with sufficient evidence to establish a reasonable suspicion that the accused committed the alleged offence.
In making her determination on Muchadehama's application, the magistrate pointed out that the issue revolved around the interpretation of section 184 of the Criminal Evidence and Procedure Act, dealing with obstructing the course of justice, which formed the basis of the case against him. In addition to this was also the computation of the 7 day time-frame as contemplated by section 121 of the same Act.
The magistrate remarked that the case against Muchadehama was basically premised on the question of interpretation, which amounted to one's legal opinion. Chimanda argued that criminalising wrong interpretations or legal opinions by members of the legal fraternity would pose a grave danger to their safety or security in dispensing their duties.
Chimanda went on to highlight the fact that if Muchadehama had wanted to obstruct the course of justice, by clandestinely securing the release of his clients, then it was doubtful that he would have chosen to communicate his intended action to the Attorney General's office. However, the magistrate dismissed another application filed by the defence on the procedural regularity of the Attorney General's action to assume both roles of being the complainant and the prosecutor in the same matter.
In her considered opinion, the magistrate noted that it was possible in some scenarios to have the Attorney General being both the prosecutor and the complainant. Chimanda, therefore, concluded that there was nothing improper about the action of the Attorney General and dismissed the second application by the defence.
The charges against Muchadehama arise from allegations that he conspired with Justice Bhunu's clerk in facilitating the release on bail of freelance photojournalist Shadreck Andrison Manyere, from Chikurubi Maximum Prison, and Movement for Democratic Change activists Kisimusi Dhlamini and Gandhi Mudzingwa, who were under hospital detention at the Avenues Clinic. They were released on 17 April 2009. Muchadehama was part of the defence team representing them.
The defence team facilitated the release on bail of Manyere on 9 April 2009 and again on 13 May 2009. On 5 May 2009, Manyere, rights activist Jestina Mukoko, and 14 other alleged saboteurs had their bail conditions revoked by Magistrate Chimanda who ruled that the court had no jurisdiction to entertain the matter. She also ruled that the indictment of the accused automatically suspended their bail and consequently remanded them in custody.