OPPOSITION lynchpin Tendai Biti is back in court on March 28 for his assault trial against Harare businesswoman Tatiana Aleishina after losing a bid to stop similar proceedings and the recusal of judicial officers presiding over the matter.
This follows High Court judge Tawanda Chitapi’s recent ruling that the matter must resume under regional magistrate Vongai Muchuchuti-Guwuriro after the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) deputy president had argued that the magistrate and top prosecutor Michael Reza were biased against him.
And Biti’s trial comes after Aleishina had filed a criminal complaint against the ex-finance minister after a 2020 incident, and court battle where the parties were tussling over a ‘fraud’ case involving George Katsimberis.
But following an October 13 order by Muchuchuti-Guwuriro that the feisty lawyer’s trial must go ahead in the absence of his lawyer Alec Muchadehama – then at the Master of High Court on other business – the CCC number two expressed displeasure by not only citing bias, but approached the High Court for recourse.
However, Chitapi said that everything was done above board as the presiding magistrate had acted within her powers.
“It was within the first respondent’s (Muchuchuti-Guwuriro) jurisdiction to either grant or refuse the postponement. The refusal of the postponement was a regular decision,” he said.
In his application, Biti demanded to have his trial proceedings permanently stayed, arguing Muchuchuti-Guwuriro’s ruling was irregular, further asking for the magistrate and Reza to recuse themselves from the matter.
“I had indicated well before that I had an application for referral to the Constitutional Court to make. I was forced to commence it without adequate preparation. The respondents have expressly said that they will stop at nothing to proceed with the trial unless stopped by the High Court,” he said.
“Respondents ordered me to proceed without my lawyer. I protested. I however, was forced to proceed, which I did in the absence of my lawyer. I aver that the refusal to postpone the matter to allow my lawyer to attend was grossly unreasonable,” Biti said.
“Respondents have shown great haste in having me tried. The hurry with which respondents are pressing with my matter makes me feel that my conviction and sentence have been predetermined already,” he said in his application.
On the fateful day, Muchuchuti-Guwuriro had postponed Biti’s case to mid-morning to allow his lawyer’s attendance, but Muchadehama failed to make it due to discussions on the master’s fees.
In his judgement, Chitapi said that the High Court master “superior and to be given such priority over a matter in an actual court”.
The learned judge further stated that the higher courts were unwilling to intervene in a matter properly before a lower court while trial was still in progress, saying it would create intolerable delays.
And Chitapi further emphasized that the High Court could only intervene in “cases where someone’s rights were at risk of been severely infringed”.