Failure to give reasons for judgment (Zimbabwe)

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Unless reasons are given for a judgment it is impossible to determine how the ultimate conclusion was reached and whether it was reached on a proper reasoned basis. Merely to state a conclusion, without giving reasons, creates the impression that the decision was an arbitrary one; it could have been reached on the basis of caprice or whim. By giving reasons the magistrate shows that his decision is a reasoned one. He gives proof that he has taken into account the evidence and arguments on both sides: Makombe & Ors HH-120-86.

Thus it has been repeatedly laid down that judgments must be reasoned and that the reasons for reaching the conclusion on verdict must be stated.

However, in the magistrates court, the Magistrates Court (Criminal) Rules RGN 871 of 1966 simply provide that "where appropriate" the magistrate presiding at the trial shall deliver a judgment giving reasons for conviction and stating shortly any special features which he has taken into account in assessing sentence. (Rule 1 of Order IV). It is further provided in Rule 2 of Order IV that where the sentence imposed exceeds twelve months' imprisonment with hard labour, with or without the option of a fine, the judgment must be reduced to writing and shall become part of the record.

Without reasons for judgment it is impossible to decide on appeal whether the accused was properly convicted. In two appeal cases the Supreme Court stressed the need for reasons to be given. In Makawa & Anor 1991 (1) ZLR 142 (S) it stated that the trial magistrate must record what he considered and give reasons for his decision otherwise there will be a gross irregularity. In Marevesa S-108-91 it said that the judgment must contain a brief summary of the facts found proved and the trial court's appraisal of the credibility of each witness, stating what evidence was accepted or rejected and giving its reasons for its decision. In both these cases the Supreme Court stated that if the judgment is inadequate, the appeal may have to be allowed as it may not be possible from that record for the appeal court to be satisfied that the convictions were warranted.

In the absence of reasons the review court will have difficulty in deciding whether the proceedings were in accordance with substantial justice. The absence of reasons will be an irregularity. However, it may not be a fatal irregularity and a conviction may still be upheld on review if the evidence on the record supports it: Rusero HH-151-86.

A full and comprehensive judgment will be more than just a recitation of the State and defence cases. It will include findings of fact, with comments on the credibility and demeanour of witnesses. It will include an analysis of the evidence and will deal with the probabilities. This will then lead up to the finding of whether the guilt of the accused was proved beyond reasonable doubt.

See Zimbabwe Criminal Defense Manual