The Mast Editorial Comment : PF and judicial capture
According to Lamar S Smith, “Judicial abuse occurs when judges substitute their own political views for the law.”
The story about our judiciary under Edgar Lungu’s leadership remains a sad tale whenever it is told. It is a story only typical of a criminal enterprise where survival is for the fittest.
Who can argue against the United States government’s report that the Zambian judiciary was influenced by that Patriotic Front in cases it had an interest.
According to the 2021 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Zambia made available by the US Embassy in Lusaka, under Edgar Lungu’s regime there were lengthy detentions without trial and defendants were not informed promptly of charges against them.
“The Constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judicial system was influenced by the ruling party in cases in which it had an interest,” reads the report in part. “While the law provides the right to a presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly of charges, and to be present at a fair and timely trial, these rights were not consistently protected… and the overburdened and insufficiently resourced judicial system led to lengthy and delayed trial procedures.”
Although the findings highlighted in this report are not entirely new, we appreciate the fact that these atrocities committed during Edgar’s administration on his fellow citizens were noticed globally. Of particular interest is the way Edgar and his associates captured the judiciary, among many other state institutions. Just as the US report has observed, cases in which Edgar and his cronies had an interest would take shocking twists. In some instances, suspects had their companies liquidated under a heavy political arm, regardless of what the law prescribed. Thereafter, their properties were immediately seized by police in non-procedural circumstances – sometimes even ignoring court injunctions. Others were slapped with weird charges that could not be explained at law. Not even a law student would entertain that. Added to that, we were treated to a new phenomenon of consent judgments. What about the infamous Lawfare!
PF operatives, in collusion with judges and lawyers, entered consent judgments for themselves, sidelining litigants. They were just waiting for legal suits from their challengers and later manipulate records with the help of judges and ordinary court officials. In fact, some judges were known for such decisions, to the extent that the public would always predict the outcome if a case where PF had an interest found itself in the hands of such a judge. And the outcome was always as people had predicted.
We all remember how a calculating – scheming – Edgar’s regime, having succeeded Michael Sata as the country’s sixth president, made sure he hounded out then Director of Public Prosecutions Mutembo Nchito after dragging him to Chongwe like a common criminal under stupid charges that could only stand in a kangaroo court such as theirs. Next, Edgar appointed judges to the Constitutional Court in February 2016, whose qualifications were in question. Majority of the ConCourt decisions have been received with suspicion – highly problematic. State Counsel John Sangwa, a renowned constitutional lawyer, did a critic of each of the ConCourt judges, which none of them has disputed up to now. And the evidence attesting to their incompetence is plenty through most of the judgments they have made since 2016 to date. Apart from that, our courts started charging exorbitant fees for cash bails. For example, Chishimba Kambwili who was their bitter enemy at some point was made to pay K300,000 cash by magistrate David Simusamba in order for him to secure bail in some criminal matter. He was later cleared of this matter and many other charges after he returned to the PF and started spreading hate speech against Hakainde Hichilema and the UPND. In short, the PF and cartels had mastered the art of lawfare.
We are strongly convinced that even now such cartels are there.
It is even annoying that these characters in PF are today claiming to be mistreated when they are enjoying rights which they never accorded anyone. Today they have the freedom to mock law enforcement officers at will. They get arrested in one instance and within minutes they are granted police bond or bail from the courts of law. Did they ever do this to anyone? Certainly not.
To date, we still doubt if Zambians will ever win a case of political nature involving PF surrogates in the Constitutional Court, for example. By public perception, the Constitutional Court still remains in PF hands. No wonder others are now jumping the High Court to go straight to the Constitutional Court over outright human rights issues.
We need serious judicial reforms like yesterday. In fact, these should start by reviewing qualifications of some judges at the time they were appointed, all the way to the judgment(s) they have made so far. A tribunal is needed within this year to handle these issues. And this tribunal should not be headed by any of the local judges because most of them are highly compromised. We can get judges from other Commonwealth countries. We just have to clean up our judiciary. And the report from the US is a wakeup call to all of us, including the new dawn administration, to never allow such rot take place or be perpetuated in our country again.
A new slate means doing away completely with evils of the past. No more schemes. Let the rule of law be followed to the letter.