Holding cases in camera (Zimbabwe)

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In order for justice to be seen to be done, criminal proceedings are normally held in public. The public are entitled to attend criminal trials and the press are entitled to report on criminal proceedings so that the public can assure themselves that the processes of justice are fair and that persons found guilty of criminal offences are appropriately punished.

In Zimbabwe criminal proceedings are only held in camera in exceptional circumstances for valid and justifiable reasons. Indeed the Constitution lays down that, subject to certain specified exceptions, all court proceedings must be held in public and the outcome of trials must be publicly announced. Normally defence counsel should oppose applications by the State for the holding of criminal proceedings against their clients in camera if they consider that this will be prejudicial to their clients. On the other hand, defence counsel should themselves apply for the holding of the proceedings in camera where the holding of public proceedings would be likely to be prejudicial to their clients such as where their clients are young persons under the age of 18.

Section 3(1) of the Courts and Adjudicating Authorities (Publicity Restriction) Act sets out the exact powers of the courts to order the exclusion of persons (except parties to the proceedings and their legal representatives) from the proceedings. It also sets out the powers of the court to place restrictions on the disclosure of information pertaining to the proceedings.

The grounds upon which these powers may be exercised are set out in s 3(2). Essentially the court can use these powers if it considers this to be necessary or expedient to protect these interests:

  • defence;
  • public safety;
  • public order or public morality;
  • the economic interests of the State;
  • the welfare of persons under the age of eighteen years;
  • witnesses who believe on reasonable grounds that harm will befall them or their families if it is known that they have given evidence,;
  • the lives of persons related to or connected with any person concerned in the proceedings.

These powers can be exercised on the court's own initiative or on application from one of the parties to the proceedings.

Additionally the responsible Minister has extensive powers to prohibit publicity and disclosure of information regarding different aspects of criminal trials where it is not in the public interest that there be such publicity or disclosure.

Zimbabwe Criminal Defense Manual

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