POLICE stormed suspended High Court judge Justice Erica Ndewere’s Harare house before withdrawing her security details under controversial circumstances yesterday.
BY MOSES MATENGA
A truckload of plainclothes police officers arrived at Ndewere’s Mandara house early in the morning and remained in the yard for a while.
The cops retreated outside the yard after the judge and her family barricaded themselves in the house, fearing for their lives in a country strewn with cases of abductions and torture.
Another truck with uniformed police officers also arrived at the house and the standoff only ended after the arrival of Ndewere’s lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa.
The police cut off her landline and removed the Clerk of Court stationed at her chambers. The police also wanted to collect her service vehicles.
Mtetwa said the judge, who was suspended by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’ last week, called her after she got alarmed by the number of police officers despatched to her house.
“The police said they had been sent to withdraw her security,” she said.
“I asked them why someone from the Police Protection Unit could not call her to say they were withdrawing her security.”
Mtetwa said police said Judicial Service Commission (JSC) deputy secretary Sithembinkosi Msipa ordered the withdrawal of Ndewere’s security.
She said the judge was being victimised for protesting that Chief Justice Luke Malaba was interfering with her work.
“Other judges who have gone through this process never had their entitlements withdrawn,” Mtetwa charged.
“Justice Francis Bere was receiving his salary and benefits until he was officially found guilty or whatever.”
Mnangagwa last month fired Bere from the Supreme Court for gross misconduct following recommendations by a tribunal he set to probe the judge over allegations of “gross misconduct”.
The president last week set up a tribunal to investigate allegations of incompetence levelled against Ndewere by the JSC.
Mtetwa said her client was being treated unfairly. She said the JSC immediately withdrew the judge’s benefits, including her salary and telephone service.
“We don’t understand why Justice Ndewere is being subjected to a different process, which clearly is vindictive,” the veteran lawyer said.
“She is still a judge and if the tribunal finds her innocent, and they have already treated her like this, it taints the whole process because why is she being discriminated against?
“Why are they withdrawing her salary and benefits?
“Why have they cut off her phone?
“Her phone was immediately terminated the minute she got the letter (of suspension) and there is an element of vindictiveness.”
Mtetwa added: “The view that we take is that the JSC should have nothing to do with this because the suspension was by the president and she is still a judge so there is no legal basis to interfere by the JSC with a process being done by the president.”
Mtetwa said Mnangagwa himself cannot interfere with the judges’ entitlements such as allowances, salaries and benefits according to the separation of powers doctrine.
“We will be seeking answers because there are many different questions that will address issues,” she said.
“We want to know the power under which they purport to be acting.”
Ndewere is expected to file an urgent application tomorrow to protect her right to security, cars and salary. An employee on suspension is often entitled to benefits, according to the law.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs permanent secretary Virginia Mabhiza insisted Ndewere’s treatment was consistent with that of a suspended judge.
“One is suspended with or without benefits,” Mabhiza said.
“So it depends on the letter of suspension.
“If it removes benefits, it will be very normal to withdraw such perks, which I suspect is the case.”
Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi was not available for comment.
Ndewere said she was being victimised for among other things granting MDC Alliance deputy chairperson Job Sikhala bail against the wishes of the chief justice.
Judges recently wrote an anonymous letter to Mnangagwa complaining about alleged interference in their duties by Malaba, whom they accused of influencing
judgements as well as spying on them.