John Fieldsend
Appointed byPresident Robert Mugabe
Succeeded byTelford Georges
Personal details
John Charles Rowell Fieldsend

(1921-09-13)September 13, 1921
DiedFebruary 22, 2017(2017-02-22) (aged 95)

John Charles Rowell Fieldsend was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe. He was appointed in 1980 and served until February 1983. He was succeded Chief Justice Telford Georges who was succeeded the following year by Zimbabwe's first black judge, Enoch Dumbutshena.[1].


John Fieldsend was born in England on the 13th of September 1921, but was brought up in what was then Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).[2]


After graduating with a law degree he practised as an advocate in Bulawayo. In 1962 he was appointed a judge of the High Court, but he resigned in 1968 in protest against the decision of the Appellate Court to grant judicial recognition to the government of Ian Smith after it had declared Unilateral Declaration of Independence. He returned to Britain, where he served in the office of the Lord Chancellor, until 1980.[2]

After Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980, Fieldsend was appointed the first Chief Justice of Zimbabwe for a fixed term and assumed office on 1 July 1980. He served as Chief Justice until February 1983 when he was replaced by Chief Justice Telford Georges.

As Chief Justice

During Justice Fieldsend's tenure the main area of conflict between the judiciary and the executive involved cases of detention without trial; that is, a deprivation of liberty permitted, subject to certain conditions, under the law of Zimbabwe, during a declared period of public emergency. The state of emergency, which had been declared by the Smith government at its unilateral declaration of independence on 11 November 1965, and extended repeatedly every six months, was kept in force by the new government for ten years.[2]


Justice Fieldsend died on Wednesday the 22nd of February 2017 after a long battle against lung cancer. He was 95.[2]


Former government minister and lawyer David Coltart, had this to say:

hope is that lawyers will reflect on the exceptionally high standards set by Judge Fieldsend, both professionally and in his private life, and be inspired by them. Judge Fieldsend was a man of absolute integrity; a Judge who could be relied upon to act honourably at all times and to scrupulously ensure that justice was done at all times. He will be sorely missed. May his soul rest in peace.


University of Kent Law Lecturer and constitutional law expert Alex Magaisa also said:

It is my tribute to a remarkable man of law whose act of courage must remain an inspiration to those who stand for and defend the rule of law. ...May there be a generation of lawyers that is inspired by the remarkable courage of men of law like Chief Justice Fieldsend.



  1. Four judges eye Chief Justice post, The Legal Monitor Edition 363-1 page 3 Published: November 21, 2016 , Retrieved: March 21 2017
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Zimbabwe’s first Chief Justice dies, David Coltart,Published:24 February 2017, Retrieved:20 March 2017
  3. Tribute to a man of courage: Chief Justice John Fieldsend, Alex Magaisa, Published:23 February 2017, Retrieved:20 March 2017