Are judges being cherry-picked to hear PF cases?
By Sishuwa Sishuwa
Why are all the court cases – three in the Lusaka High Court, one in the Constitutional Court – involving the State-supported Miles Sampa versus the main opposition Patriotic Front only given to Lozi-speaking judges?
The first case was allocated to Timothy Katanekwa – a Lozi speaker. The second case was allocated to Situmbeko Chocho – a Lozi speaker. The third one, which is before the Constitutional Court, was allocated to Kenneth Mulife – a Lozi speaker. The most recent case concerning 7 PF members (and presidential hopefuls) who have petitioned the legality of the convention that elected Sampa to the party leadership, has been allocated to Sililo Siloka – a Lozi. Is this a coincidence or it is all planned? What is it that Lozi-speaking judges have that judges from other ethnic groups do not have? What makes, say, Bemba-speaking judges or those hailing from Eastern Province unqualified to hear and determine matters involving the PF versus Miles Sampa?
In addition to a shared province of origin and ethnic-language identity, three of the four judges handling PF cases – that is Situmbeko, Mulife, and Sililo – were all appointed to their current roles by President Hakainde Hichilema in 2023. The only exception is justice Katanekwa who was appointed High Court judge by Frederick Chiluba in 1996 but was just recently suspended from his position by Hichilema. If the argument is that the trio has a rather limited case load, why is it that judges from the other ethnic groups who were appointed alongside them are being overlooked for these general cases? Is there a fear that judges hailing from the Eastern and Bemba-speaking provinces cannot be trusted to hear and determine PF matters in an impartial manner? If there is none, then how best should we understand the fact that it is only Lozi-speaking judges who are being asked to deliberate on PF matters?
And given the gravity of the outcome of the cases to the fate of Zambia’s democracy and party system, especially the case given to Sililo, what explains the failure by Lusaka High Court Judge-in-Charge for general allocations, Charles Zulu, to assign these cases to a diverse set of experienced judges (– and there are many justices available from different ethnic groups!)? Similarly, why did Mweetwa Shilimi – another Hichilema appointee who was simultaneously promoted as Deputy President of the Constitutional Court, the official responsible for case allocation – overlook all the experienced judges on the Concourt bench for the recently appointed justice Mulife?
Are judges from the ‘Zambezi region’ – where the President comes from – seen as more likely than those from a different region to make decisions that would favour President Hichilema, who, as I have previously shown in the article below, appears to be the driving force behind Miles Sampa and the PF leadership wrangles? If they are not seen this way, then how best should we understand the continued allocation of cases involving Sampa and the PF to relatively inexperienced judges who have only been in their positions a matter of months.