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Another Senior Judge Resigns in Zimbabwe - 2002-01-03

A senior judge in Zimbabwe has resigned, bringing to five the number who have retired early or been forced to resign in the past year. Judge David Bartlett so far has given no reason for his resignation.

The 49-year-old Zimbabwe-born white judge said in his resignation letter to President Robert Mugabe that he will leave the High Court at the end of March. He gave no reason for leaving before the judicial retirement age of 60.

Last year, the country's most senior judge, Chief Justice Anton Gubbay, was forced to resign after the government said his personal safety could not be guaranteed.

The chief justice had been threatened by militants loyal to Mr. Mugabe. They were angered by a supreme court decision that invasions of mostly white owned commercial farms were illegal.

A pro-government mob also stormed the Supreme Court chanting, "Kill the judges."

Following the departure of Chief Justice Gubbay and two other supreme court judges, President Mugabe increased the size of the court from five to eight judges.

Legal associations in Zimbabwe accused the president of packing the court with his personal favorites to make sure that pro-government decisions were made.

At the end of last year, the court overturned the previous decision, saying that invasions of white-owned farms were legal.

The government has come under fire from the International Bar Association, a worldwide group of lawyers and judges that monitors threats to the independence of the judiciary. After a visit to Zimbabwe last year, the bar association said the government was abandoning the rule of law.