By Barnabas Thondhlana
Harare High Court judge Justice Zhou is in the eye of a storm for allegedly holding a “kangaroo court” in his Chambers in a long-running dispute between businessman Future Muvirimi and Ramsay Investments P/L and 7 Others.
The dispute is over the ownership of a service station along Bulawayo Road previously run by Muvirimi and then “sold” to alleged “Gold Mafioso” Simon Rudland in circumstances that led to legal contestation.
Of further concern to Muvirimi is the alleged possibility of complicity between the Judge and Ramsay Investments legal practitioners, Atherstone and Cook.
The kangaroo court allegations arose after Muvirimi and his legal practitioners were invited to attend a hearing in Justice Zhou’s chambers on July 26, 2019. The invitation letter of July 24, 2019 originated from Atherstone and Cook offices, instead of the Registrar of the High Court, as is normal practice.
Muvirimi was represented by instructing attorney James Nyamunda of Thomson Stevenson and Associates and counsel Professor Welshman Ncube. Mr T Gumbo of Atherstone and Cook represented Ramsay Investments.
“Upon commencement of the meeting it became apparent that the judge had called the parties to discuss case number HC3532/16, to which Professor Ncube responded by indicating that he had no brief for the said case and that his brief was only for HC10985/15,” reads a Thomson Stevenson and Associates letter to the Registrar of the High Court dated April 20, 2023.
“The judge stated that he had observed that the parties in HC109/85 were the same as those in HC3532/16 and that the dispute was founded on the same facts in HC10985/15. On the basis of that the judge directed that he would place HC3532 in abeyance pending the determination of HC10985, his view being that the determination of HC10985/15 would resolve the issues which the parties had in HC3532/16.”
Muvirimi averred Justice Zhou was seized with the matter of HC10985/15, but not HC3532/16, which had not been before him. Both Muvirimi and Nyamunda deposed affidavits on the deliberations of the meeting in the judge’s chambers.
Following the appearance of the parties and their lawyers before Hon J Zhou on July 26, 2019, Muvirimi’s representative generated or caused the generation of a number of correspondence on the said appearance. The correspondence was directed at the Judicial Services Commission, the Chief Justice and Atherstone and Cook.
In response to concerns raised by Muvirimi, the JSC said they had no records of the letter authoured by Atherstone and Cook directing the former to attend a meeting in Justice Zhou’s chambers.
“…the Judge’s diary together with the notebooks for this matter, do not reflect that the matter was set down on this particular day,” said Mrs F Mushure of the JSC in a letter dated February 24, 2021.
“The standard practice is that notices of set down inviting parties for hearing to Judges Chambers are served through the office of the Sheriff and not through legal practitioners of other parties to litigation.”
Mushure advised Muvirimi to “engage Messrs Atherstone and Cook legal Practitioners with a view to ascertain the basis upon which they wrote their letter…as this, from our investigations, does not seem to have originated from the office of the Judge nor the Registrar”.
Atherstone and Cook responded thus on April 22, 2021: “Mr Takura Gumbo who attended to the matter is no longer with our firm, and we are therefore unable to definitely supply you with name and status of the person you enquire about.
“We can only assume that the relevant directive was issued from the office of the Registrar of the High Court.
“Details of the appearance of 26 July, 2019 which you refer to in your recent letter remain unknown to us…,” the legal practitioners said.
In his letter to Chief Justice Malaba, dated May 24, 2022, Muvirimi cried: “…my complaint is that I did not get a fair hearing from the honourable Judge who colluded with the defendant against my interests.
“What the honourable judge did, in essence, smacks of utter corruption which, in my view, should not be allowed to remain rearing its ugly head in the country’s justice delivery system.”
The Chief Justice responded on August 4, 2022 through the office of A Tshuma, the Chief Registrar – Superior Courts, saying: “Please be advised that…investigations show that the Hon Judge was never seized with case no. HC3532/16. The evidence further shows that the Hon Judge did not issue an order or directive relating to the case as alleged in the letter of complaint.
“The notes in the Judge’s diary show that the meeting of 26 July 2019 was called to discuss the matter in Metwax Properties Pvt Ltd v Petrotrade Pvt Ltd and Downtown Petroleum Pvt Ltd case no. HC164/14. The case result shows that it was the case of Metmax Properties which was removed from the roll pending determination of the issues in case no. HC10985/15.
“The matter has therefore been closed,” in a surprising turn of events.
In another eyebrow-raising development, another letter from Atherstone and Cook of July 25, 2019 inviting Metwax Properties to Justice Zhou’s chambers on the same day at the same time as Muvirimi’s meeting, and directed to law firm Chadyiwa and Associates, surfaced in support of the Chief Registrar’s statement.