The Plight of an Unrepresented Accused Person in Zimbabwe

Topics: Law, Common law, Jury Pages: 5 (1554 words) Published: March 8, 2013

“The plight of an unrepresented accused person in a criminal trial in Zimbabwe” Introduction
Central to the whole aspect of the entire system of criminal justice, in any civilized nation, is the quest to strike a balance between the scales of justice. Criminal offenders, on one hand, must be punished in order to prevent socially intolerable activities and concurrently minimum fair trial rights of every accused person must be upheld irrespective of their status. Every human being by virtue of his or her humanity is entitled to enjoy certain rights which are inalienable among others is the right to a fair trial. The criminal justice delivery system is a machine that facilitates the processing, handling, administering of matters, issues and crimes in order to achieve justice or equilibrium under the ambit of law. It is a system whose operation is built on the tenets of fairness and in its operation justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. Law is the art of the good and just. Thus criminal trials should be conducted in a manner that results in the attainment of justice in the eyes of the society and the wrongdoer whether such person has legal representation or not.

Background of the study
In Zimbabwe the criminal trial process is governed by the provisions of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act (hereinafter referred to as CPEA) with the Constitution guaranteeing minimum standards of a fair trial under s18. The criminal justice system adopted in terms of the CPEA is the adversarial system which in essence is oral in nature and is conducted through the medium of the outspoken word. From the first appearance of an undefended accused in court until the imposition of sentence in the event of a conviction explanations are directed at the accused by the presiding officer. These explanations aim to explain the criminal trial procedure at intervals as it progresses and are referred to as procedural explanations. In pursuit to these explanations the accused is required to make a choice between given alternatives and failure to do so adverse inferences maybe made. Thus given the fact that most of the accused person who appear before our courts are not legally represented and lack the knowledge of the law and rules governing criminal procedure, the criminal trial in general and defending a criminal charge in particular present a minefield of hard choices to an unrepresented accused. The accused, in this case has to litigate against a subjective legally trained opponent (the State prosecutor) who often take advantage of his legal expertise to nail the passive unrepresented accused person with the presiding officer usually a Magistrate just staring at the proceedings underway. That being the case, the unrepresented accused cannot effectively participate in the proceedings. Further, corrupt tendencies by judicial officers involved in criminal proceedings have incapacitated our justice delivery system. Consequently, this has pessimistically affected an unrepresented accused who cannot afford legal representation and the underhand dealings demanded by these judicial officers for his/her acquittal. As such these undefended accused persons have been used in an unorthodox manner to cover the misdemeanor by these authorities. Our criminal trial procedure is tainted by a myriad of misgivings which have undermined the equilibrium of the scales of justice in cases involving an undefended accused person. Unscrupulous activities by judicial officers have bedeviled our justice delivery system such that it has been reduced to a charade and pretense of justice. Presiding authorities, whose duties are inter alia to assist the accused ipso facto whether represented or unrepresented, are not efficaciously available in assisting self actors to ascertain their rights in criminal proceedings. More often than not they have rather complicated the...
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