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  1. Introduction
  2. Defense Lawyer's Role and Responsibilities
  3. Pre-Trial Matters
  4. Jurisdiction of Courts
  5. Preparing for Trial
  6. Trials
  7. Rules of Evidence
  8. Criminal Law Code
  9. Verdict
  10. Sentence
  11. Record of Proceedings
  12. Appeals
  13. Automatic Review and Scrutiny
  14. Miscellaneous Matters





After 1980 Zimbabwe was widely regarded as a model African democracy. However, since 2000, the country has been engulfed in a crippling political, economic, and humanitarian crisis that has virtually wiped out the progress made over the previous two decades. An estimated 3.5 million Zimbabweans have fled the country over the past seven years.

Zimbabwe once boasted one of Africa's most sophisticated and developed legal communities. However, the country's justice system was adversely affected by the political meltdown, with lawyers and judges fleeing the country by the hundreds. The country's prisons swelled and the pre-trial detention population soared. During this period of turmoil, torture became widely accepted as a legitimate tool for police investigation and judicial sanctions. A total system collapse resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe on a massive scale.

Zimbabwe is divided into 8 provinces and 2 cities with provincial status (Harare and Bulawayo). The current Legal Aid Directorate (LAD) is staffed by 15 lawyers, all based in Harare, representing the needs of Zimbabwe's 12 million citizens. LAD focuses almost exclusively on civil cases. As a result, defendants receive legal aid only in the most serious of cases.

Type of System

Zimbabwe's legal system is a common-law system based on Roman-Dutch law but has been influenced by the system of nearby South Africa. There are four justices on the Zimbawbe Supreme Court and they have original jurisdiction over fundamental rights cases under the Zimbabwe Constitution.

Sources of Defendants' Rights

Chapter Three of the Constitution of Zimbabwe is the starting point for defendants' rights in Zimbabwe. Article 13 provides for notice of charges as and provides that an individual may consult an attorney at their own expense [1]. An individual who is detained must be brought to trial within a "reasonable time". [2] "[T}orture ... inhuman or degrading punishment or other such treatment" are forbidden under Section 15 of the Constitution[3]. Article 18 sets for specific provisions for criminal cases including the presumption of innocence, a fair trial, and the right to silence.

Defendants' Rights


In order to make an arrest, a police officer must have reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed or is about to be committed. A warrant is required unless the defendant has committed or attempted to commit the crime in the presence of a police officer. If arrested with a warrant the defendant must be brought to a police station or charging station as soon as possible. A defendant may be detained for no more than 48 hours unless a magistrate authorizes an extension of the detention. There are special provisions for prolonged detention under the Ninth Schedule of the CPEA.

If a defendant requests an attorney during interrogation, police must stop the interrogation until the defendant has been able to consult his or her attorney [4]. A statement made during interrogation must be confirmed by a magistrate in order to be admitted at trial. Once confirmed, this becomes difficult to challenge at trial. My Page


Section 10 of the Legal Aid Act provides for legal aid in criminal cases when a judge, magistrate or attorney general believes it is in the interests of justice and the individual has insufficient means to pay a private attorney. Generally every client accused of homicide is entitled to a legal aid lawyer.

The defense lawyer has the right to cross-examine State witnesses. Statements to police may be admitted only if freely and voluntarily made without undue influence[5]. If produced before a Magistrate, the confession requires no further proof of admissibility although defense may still challenge the confession as the product of undue influence.

The State is required to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Witness testimony alone by accomplices, young children and complainants in sexual cases usually require corroborating evidence to establish the State's burden of proof.

In Zimbabwe, the court should scrutinize identification evidence and when it is poor, should require corroboration or support. [6]

Although a defendant has the right not to testify, the factfinder may also draw an adverse inference from the accused's silence at various stage of the proceedings.


After conviction, a defendant may appeal the conviction, sentence or both. The grounds must be set out clearly in the notice and grounds for appeal. In exceptional circumstances a court may hear new evidence that was not admitted at the trial court.

See Criminal Justice Systems Around the World


  • Rule of Law: 1.4/100
  • 2009 Prison Population: 17,967, 136 people per 100,000


  1. Constitution of Zimbabwe, Art. 13(3)
  2. Constitution of Zimbabwe, Art. 13(4)
  3. Constitution of Zimmabwe, Art. 15(1)
  4. Slatter & Ors 1983 (2) ZLR 144 (H)
  5. CPEA section 256
  6. Nkomo & Anor, 1989 (3) ZLR 117 (S)