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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





Zimbabwe is located in Southern Africa and has a population of about 16 million people.[1]The country is divided into seven provinces and three cities with provincial status (Harare, Masvingo and Bulawayo), Harare being its capital and largest city.[2]

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. The long-standing president Robert Mugabe lost power in November 2017 after being dismissed by a bloodless coup by the military.[3] In 2018, Emmerson Mnangagwa was elected and sworn in as president, with his term to end in 2023.[4] Although there were improvements to the election process, international organisations stated that major reforms to stop corruption still need to be implemented.[5]

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. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Zimbabwe, ongoing human rights problems include “arbitrary killings, government-targeted abductions, and arbitrary arrests; torture; harsh prison conditions; criminal libel; censorship; restrictions on freedoms of assembly, association, and movement; government corruption; ineffective government response towards violence against women; and criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct”. [6]

A truncated historical timeline[7] is provided below:

  • 1980 - Veteran pro-independence leader Robert Mugabe and his ZANU party win British-supervised independence elections. Mugabe is named prime minister and includes ZAPU leader Joshua Nkomo in his cabinet. Independence on 18 April is internationally recognised.
  • 1982 - Mugabe sacks Nkomo, accusing him of preparing to overthrow the government.North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade deployed to crush rebellion by pro-Nkomo ex-guerrillas in Midlands and Matabeleland provinces. Government forces are accused of killing thousands of civilians over next few years.
  • 1987 - Mugabe, Nkomo merge their parties to form Zanu-PF, ending the violence in southern areaMugabe changes constitution, becomes executive president.Robert Mugabe
  • 1999 - Economic crisis, Zimbabwe's military involvement in DR Congo's civil war becomes increasingly unpopular. Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formed.
  • 2000 February - President Mugabe suffers defeat in referendum on draft constitution. Squatters seize hundreds of white-owned farms in an ongoing and violent campaign to reclaim what they say was stolen by settlers.
  • 2002 March - Mugabe re-elected in presidential elections condemned as seriously flawed by the opposition and foreign observers. Commonwealth suspends Zimbabwe from its councils for a year after concluding that elections were marred by high levels of violence.
  • 2003 December - Zimbabwe pulls out of Commonwealth after organisation decides to extend suspension of country indefinitely.
  • 2005 May-July - Tens of thousands of shanty dwellings and illegal street stalls are destroyed as part of a "clean-up" programme. The UN estimates that the drive has left about 700,000 people homeless.
  • 2006 December - Ruling Zanu-PF party approves a plan to move presidential polls from 2008 to 2010, effectively extending Mr Mugabe's rule by two years.
  • 2008 May - Electoral body says Tsvangirai won most votes in presidential poll, but not enough to avoid a run-off against Mugabe.
  • 2008 June - Run-off goes ahead. Mugabe declared winner. Tsvangirai pulled out days before poll, complaining of intimidation. Russia,China veto a Western-backed UN Security Council resolution to impose sanctions.
  • 2008 Sept - Mugabe, Tsvangirai sign power-sharing agreement. Implementation stalls over who gets top ministerial jobs.
  • 2009 February - Tsvangirai is sworn in as prime minister, after protracted talks over formation of government. A month later he is injured in a car crash that kills his wife.
  • 2011 December - President Mugabe says he will run in the next elections. He condemns the current power-sharing government as a monster.
  • 2012 February - Constitutional Select Committee completes draft of new constitution, but Zanu-PF and MDC continue to quarrel about the details.
  • 2013 March - New constitution approved by an overwhelming majority in a referendum. Future presidents will be limited to two five-year terms.
  • 2013 July - Presidential and parliamentary elections. Mr Mugabe gains a seventh term in office and his Zanu-PF party three-quarters of the seats in parliament. The opposition MDC dismisses the polls as a fraud.
  • 2015 June - Central Bank formally phases out the Zimbabwe dollar, formalising the multi-currency system introduced to counter hyper-inflation.
  • 2016 November - A new national currency - called bond notes - is introduced amid public resistance.
  • 2017 November - Mr Mugabe resigns days after the military takes control. Emmerson Mnangagwa becomes president.
  • 2018 February - Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai dies after a battle with cancer.
  • 2018 June - A bomb explodes near Mr Mnangagwa at a rally in Bulawayo, leaving him unhurt but killing two people. Campaigning for the 30 July presidential election is underway.
  • 2018 July - Mr Mnangagwa narrowly wins first post-independence presidential election without Mr Mugabe on the ballot paper. Opponent Nelson Chamisa, of the MDC Alliance, says he will not accept the "fake results".
  • 2018 August - Constitutional Court upholds Mr Mnangagwa's election victory after it was challenged by the opposition MDC Alliance, paving the way for his inauguration two days later.

Type of Legal 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 Zimbabwe Supreme Court and they have original jurisdiction over fundamental rights cases under the Zimbabwe Constitution.

Legal Aid Situation

Sources of Defendant's 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 [8]. An individual who is detained must be brought to trial within a "reasonable time". [9] "[Torture ... inhuman or degrading punishment or other such treatment" are forbidden under Section 15 of the Constitution[10]. Article 18 sets for specific provisions for criminal cases including the presumption of innocence, a fair trial, and the right to silence.

Defendant's Rights at every stage of the criminal procedure


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 [11]. 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.


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[12]. 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. [13]

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.

Key Criminal Law Principles

See Criminal Justice Systems Around the World



  1. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=ZW
  2. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Provinces_of_Zimbabwe, last accessed July 15, 2019
  3. Columbia International Affairs Online, http://www.ciaonet.org.proxy.wm.edu/record/41016?search=1, last accessed July 16, 2019
  4. US State Department 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Zimbabwe, https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/zimbabwe/, last accessed July 16, 2019
  5. US State Department 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Zimbabwe, https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/zimbabwe/, last accessed July 16, 2019
  6. US State Department 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Zimbabwe, https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/zimbabwe/, last accessed July 16, 2019
  7. For a fuller chronology of key events in Zimbabwe see: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-14113618
  8. Constitution of Zimbabwe, Art. 13(3)
  9. Constitution of Zimbabwe, Art. 13(4)
  10. Constitution of Zimbabwe, Art. 15(1)
  11. Slatter & Ors 1983 (2) ZLR 144 (H)
  12. CPEA section 256
  13. Nkomo & Anor, 1989 (3) ZLR 117 (S)