While the law required that once an appeal had been dismissed, the convicted person should surrender himself to “undergo the punishment”, in a recent ruling Harare High Court Judge Pisirayi Kwenda said this had been “sadly overlooked by the courts, legal practitioners and unrepresented people over the years”.
“The statistics reveal that in the majority of cases, the appellant disappears as soon as they are admitted to bail. In reality, people sentenced to imprisonment do not voluntarily hand themselves in. They also rarely take the risk to prosecute their appeals,” the judge said.
“Before sentence they are not entirely trusted and must appear in person at their trial to be monitored. In a surprise twist in legislation, after conviction the same person is deemed worthy of trust and is allowed to stay at home for days on end to prosecute an appeal at his own pace and hand himself or herself over when the appeal fails.”
The matter before Judge Kwenda was an application for bail by Petronella Kagonye, Zimbabwe’s former minister of labour and social welfare, who had been convicted in the anti-corruption court for theft, sentenced to an effective two years imprisonment and directed to pay restitution.
The case against Kagonye was that she had stolen 20 laptops, donated by a government agency, which were destined for underprivileged schools. Judge Kwenda said the evidence was that Kagonye did not account for the laptops, they did not reach the schools and were not distributed for e-learning.
Kagonye pleaded not guilty. She said she did not know she had to account for the distribution of the laptops and that they had been handed out by her campaign manager to undocumented recipients. The anti-corruption court ruled that Kagonye knew she had to account for them because she had listed the schools they were to be distributed to when she requested the donation.
“The trial court found it unbelievable that the laptops could just be given away without record … only three were recovered and the rest disappeared without trace,” the judge said.
He said Kagonye was not likely to succeed in her appeal. He was also not satisfied that she had a genuine intention to prosecute her appeal timeously and abide by the outcome if she did not succeed.
“I take judicial notice of the statistics gathered from this court which reveal a predictable pattern of perverse conduct by convicts released on bail pending appeal … such persons have exhibited a high propensity to abandon their appeals and disappear,” he said, noting that Kagonye had not given any undertaking in this regard, which had left him “suspicious of her intentions and with heightened fears of (her) absconding”.
The judge said the appeal was ready to be heard and the court was “ready and available to hear it without delay”. “Judgment is not likely to be delayed,” he said, refusing to grant her bail.
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