Chaskalson slams treatment of Zim judge

South Africa’s chief justice on Thursday deplored the treatment meted out to a retired Zimbabwean judge facing criminal charges in his country, describing it as a threat to judicial independence.

Former judge Fergus Blackie was held for three days in a police cell over the weekend after his arrest on charges of attempting to defeat the course of justice.

“The allegations made against him… did not warrant his arrest at his home in the early hours of the morning and his subsequent detention for a number of days before being released on bail,” Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson said in a statement.

“Whether this was the intention or not, the perception created by this high-handed and disproportionate action is that its purpose was not only to humiliate the former judge but also to intimidate others.

“The independence of the judiciary is a core value of any democratic society. The way that the matter has been dealt with by the Zimbabwe police threatens that independence and is deplorable.”

Zimbabwean chief justice Godfrey Chidyausiku last week said he had ordered criminal investigations into Blackie.

He reportedly accused the judge of racist motives in quashing the theft conviction of accountant Tara White in order “to prevent a white person from going to jail”.

Blackie on Wednesday denied allegations that he had had an affair with White. Newspapers reported the state had alleged that a relationship between the two had influenced the judge to acquit White.

She has been arrested on the same charges.
Both were freed on bail on Monday.

In July, in one of his last judgments before retirement, Blackie ordered the arrest of justice minister Patrick Chinamasa for ignoring a summons to appear in court to answer charges of contempt of court.

Chinamasa’s response was that the judge’s orders “should not be tolerated”. Police did not carry out Blackie’s order.

Claims have been made that police hid Blackie from his lawyers and family for the first 24 hours of his three-day detention, denied him food and refused medication for his heart condition. - Sapa

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