Verdicts and judgments

A verdict is the decision of a court in a criminal case, i.e. the decision whether the accused is guilty or not guilty.  A judgment is a statement of the reasons for the verdict.  Judgments may be given orally, but must be recorded.  Judgments can also be simply handed down in writing without being read out, though the verdict reached by the court should be read out by the judicial officer in open court.  Sometimes a court will announce its verdict and say that reasons will follow – i.e. that a written judgment setting out the reasons for the verdict will be handed down later.

The verdict must generally be given in open court, subject to the rules relating to trials in camera.

When judgment should be given

The court will normally give its judgment immediately, where the facts and the law involved in the case are straightforward (an ex tempore judgment) but it may adjourn the proceedings to consider judgment.  A court has a duty to give its judgment promptly and without undue delay, because parties are entitled to judgment as soon as reasonably possible and lengthy delays destroy public confidence in the courts.  Under the judges’ code of ethics issued by the Judicial Service Commission, judges must use their best efforts to ensure that judgments are given within 90 days and, save in unusual and exceptional circumstances judgments must be given within 180 days.  This does not override the general rule that judgments must be delivered as soon as possible, because justice delayed is justice denied.

Reasons for judgment

A judgment must set out the judicial officer’s reasons for reaching his decision.   If it does not it will be impossible to determine how the judge or magistrate reached his decision and whether it was reached on a properly reasoned basis.  For a judicial officer not to record his reasons is a gross irregularity and will usually result in the conviction being set aside on appeal or review, though it may be upheld if the evidence on record supports it.

Possible verdicts


If the verdict is one of not guilty, the accused is acquitted of the charge and is entitled to be liberated from custody on that charge.


If the court is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty, it will convict him of the crime charged or of some other crime which the court has found proved.

Alternative counts

If the accused was charged with two or more crimes in the alternative, the court can decide on which charge to convict him, if the evidence justifies finding him guilty on all the alternatives.  In that event the court should find the accused guilty of whichever charge the court considers to be the most appropriate.  In that event also, the court should acquit the accused on the other alternatives.

Permissible [competent] verdicts

If the law allows a person who is charged with a particular crime to be convicted of some other crime, then a conviction of that other crime is called a “permissible verdict”.  To illustrate:  a person charged with murder may be convicted of assault, if the evidence shows that he assaulted the deceased person but does not prove that he killed him.  Hence, assault is said to be a permissible verdict on a charge of murder.  Permissible verdicts are also called “competent verdicts”.

Most of the permissible verdicts are set out in the Criminal Law Code (sections 273-5 and the Fourth Schedule).  The more general ones are as follows:

    Section                 Charge                                       Permissible (competent) verdict

  273(a)                  Any crime                 Threatening, inciting, conspiring or attempting to commit that crime or any other crime of which the accused might be convicted on that charge

  273(b)                  Any crime                 Assisting a perpetrator of that crime or of any other crime of which the accused might be convicted on that charge

  274                       Any crime                 Any other crime whose essential elements are included in the crime charged

  Fourth Schedule    Murder                      Infanticide, culpable homicide, and any crime of which a person might be convicted if he were charged with infanticide or culpable homicide.

And so on.  Other statutes also provide for permissible verdicts:  for example the Road Traffic Act [Chapter 13:11] allows a person who is charged with reckless driving to be convicted of the lesser crimes of negligent driving or driving without due care and attention.

Section 334(1) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act.

Section 332 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act.

Pharmaceutical Society of SA & Ors v Tshabalala-Msimang & Anor NNO 2005 (3) SA 238 (SCA) at 261H.  Section 19 of the Judicial Service (Code of Ethics) Regulations, 2012 (SI 107/2012) requires judges to use their best efforts to deliver judgment within 90 days and, save in exceptional circumstances, requires them to do so within 180 days.

Judicial Service (Code of Ethics) Regulations, 2012 (S.I. 107 of 2012), section 19.

R v Majerero & Ors 1948 (3) SA 1032 (A);  R v Van der Walt 1952 (4) SA 382 (A).  See also Geldenhuys & Joubert Criminal Procedure Handbook 10th ed p. 302.

S v Makawa & Anor 1991 (1) ZLR 142 (S) at 146;  S v Maimba 2014 (1) ZLR 705 (H).

Section 341 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act.

R v Tshuma & Anor 1964 RLR 578 (G).

Section 53(1).