The open court principle in Zimbabwe: A language rights perspective

Research Article

The open court principle in Zimbabwe: A language rights perspective

DOI: 10.2989/16073614.2023.2226176
Author(s): Eventhough Ndlovu University of the Free State, South Africa


This article examines the open court principle in Zimbabwe from a language rights perspective. Data were collected through an analysis of the statutes which enshrine this principle to examine their adequacy (or lack thereof). Court observations and semi-structured interviews with purposively sampled key participants were used to corroborate data from document analysis. Findings of this study show that Zimbabwean courts are not open courts in the true sense of the word because members of the public in the gallery are not guaranteed the right to an interpreter or translator. Legally represented litigants or those who express comfort with English are not offered interpretation services, which is a clear indication that interpretation services are primarily meant for litigants and not members of the public in the gallery. Consequently, Zimbabwean courts merely guarantee physical access, and deny members of the public linguistic access. English is the language of the proceedings and record, yet the majority of the members of the public are functionally illiterate in English. Based on this, I therefore argue that opening up the physical space of courts and guaranteeing physical access to the court documents is of little or no use if the citizens are linguistically excluded.

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