The full Supreme Court bench on Wednesday took SANAC executive director Gregory Chifire’s lawyers to task for “insulting their intelligence” when the counsels insisted that they would not proceed until they were guided on whether or not their client was charged with a criminal or civil contempt case.
And Chifire has denied ever giving an interview to the Zambia Watchdog alleging that “Mambilima is the most corrupt judge” saying he did not know the article, neither was he approached by the online media for an interview.
Chifire was charged with four counts of contempt of court after he allegedly wrote to Chief Justice, Irene Mambilima and caused to be published two articles in the Zambian Watchdog and another one in The Mast Newspaper concerning the judgement of the Savenda vs Stanbic Bank case.
When the matter came up before a full bench of the Supreme Court judges led by Deputy Chief Justice Marvin Mwanamwambwa, the judges expressed displeasure with the conduct of Chifire’s lawyers.
This was after the lawyers, Landilani Banda, McQueen Zaza and Grace Mwenda sought the court’s guidance on whether or not Chifire was facing criminal or civil contempt proceedings, because according to them, pleading guilty or not guilty was unique in civil proceedings.
“We had sight of the court record in the previous proceedings and having not been there, we wish to be guided in certain aspects of the case. This court made a ruling in the last sitting to the effect that it was a civil contempt but when you look at the charge sheet and the counts, you will realize that Mr Chifire was made to plead guilty or not guilty on the four counts which is unique to civil proceedings,” Zaza said.
“If we have to proceed on premises that these proceedings are indeed civil, order 52 rule 1 of the white book paragraph five is very instructive as how to proceed in a civil way.”
At this point, the judges got incensed and accused the lawyers of lecturing them.
“You are seeking guidance by trying to lecture us on that? What you are telling us is like an objection to these proceedings,” they asked.
This forced the lawyers to apologize to the court but insisted that they were seeking clarifications in order to ablely represent their client.
However, the judges guided that despite the matter being a civil one, it had characteristics of a criminal one, which was a serious offence.
They urged the lawyers to proceed by calling their witness but the defence counsels hesitated, claiming that they still needed guidance from the court.
The judges, however, warned the lawyers not to misconduct themselves saying it was incompetence on their part by going to court without proper instructions from their client.
When the defence lawyers asked for a short adjournment to raise preliminary issues on points of law, the court rejected their application saying the lawyers had come to court ill prepared.
“Your application to adjourn is rejected. It’s quite obvious that you came here ill prepared. This court will not allow that, you come here ill prepared to resort or embark upon, expecting to survive on legal gymnastics,” judge Mwanamwamba said as two other judges added, “You are not serious. From August 23 seriously? That was sufficient time…The courts are not a circus and the courts are not fertile grounds for research by counsel. You do not walk into court, the courts reminds you of the mistake you have made, you then seek an adjournment to go and repair that mistake, the courts are not fertile grounds for counsel. It’s incompetence on the part of counsel to walk into court and seek guidance. You are a lawyer you should have researched. You do not walk into court to seek guidance not at all.”
Banda thereafter asked for guidance from the court to allow them to put their client Chifire on the stand for examination in chief saying their witness, a reporter from The Mast newspaper who was scheduled to testify on that day was not present.
In response, another judge reminded Chifire that his client had already testified.
“Mr Banda you saw the summons from your client. As such when your client came, he stood in the dock took the oath and each count was put to him. When each count was put to him, he explained his position. He answered all the counts and explained his position. We are only here for one count, fourth count which he said he needed to call a witness. But his evidence was given,” one of the judges said.
Judge Mwanamwamba then ordered him to a call a witness but the lawyers maintained that they did not have a witness.
However, after some consultation, the judges finally allowed him to recall and examine Chifire.
During examination in chief, Chifire rejected the charge in the first count alleging that he caused to be published an article on Zambian Watchdog headlined “Mambilima is the most corrupt judge” saying he never gave an interview to anyone from Watchdog.
“It’s not my publication, I do not know it. I did not give an interview to the Watchdog, neither did they ask for my opinion to publish the said article,” he said after he was asked by his lawyer about the publication.
Asked on his take regarding the letter he wrote to the Chief Justice Irene Mambilima, in count two, Chifire said he had authored the letter in good faith to bring to her attention the concerns from the public regarding the Savenda Vs Stanbic judgment.
“I authored the letter in good faith with good intentions so as to bring to fall of the Chief Justice some of the concerns the general public have been raising regarding the judiciary. Some of the views regarded the judgement in the Savenda Vs Stanbic judgment,” he said.
“Further to this, my submitting in this manner was necessitated by the Constitutional requirement to uphold the rule of law as a good citizen. It was written to help the establishment, find a way to address this matter perhaps administratively. It was a mare request to the judiciary because the judiciary forms an important part of the society.”
And in the third count where he’s alleged to have caused to be published in the Zambian Watchdog another article disparaging the judiciary, Chifire reiterated that he never had any interview with the Watchdog.
Asked on the article published in the Mast newspaper charging that the “Judiciary [was] one of the most corrupt in Zambia”, Chifire admitted that he had an interview with The Mast but said the interview was not intended to demean the integrity of the judiciary.
“I had an interview with The Mast newspaper and my views were the views that the general public have. And in so doing I was trying to help in bringing up some measures that maybe able to help the judiciary, an institution that I cherish. It was not at all intended to demean the integrity of the good standing of the judiciary,” Chifire said.
Asked in what capacity he had given that interview, Chifire said he was quoted as a Lusaka citizen.
Meanwhile, Chifire said he shouldn’t be cited for contempt because he had never attacked the judiciary maliciously or in any way.
And in cross examination by the nine judges, Chifire denied having said that the Savenda Vs Stanbic case had exposed the level of corruption in the judiciary, saying issues of corruption had not come from him but the public.
He was however reminded by justice Mwanamwamba that if one repeated an insult then he was also insulting.
“So you were repeating what the people were saying? If you repeat an insult are you yourself not insulting,” justice Mwanamwamba observed.
Asked what pained him about the Savenda Vs Stanbic judgement that made him want to defend Savenda, Chifire said he found the Savenda judgement to be faulty because the costs awarded to Savenda were too high and that the case had attracted public interest and was in public domain.
Asked if he was a shareholder of Savenda for him to take up their fight, Chifire maintained that his interest lay in the poor Zambians.
“I have not been championing their cause, my interest lies in the people who are poor in Chawama, in Mtendere,” he said.
And in re-examination, Chifire said every citizen was entitled to give an interview or views as enshrined in the Constitution because it was a Constitutional right.
Chifire’s lawyers then submitted that they had closed their case and wished to file written submissions.
The matter has been adjourned to November 28 for judgement.
In this matter, Chifire is in count one, accused of causing to be published an article on the Zambian Watchdog headlined “Mambilima is the most corrupt judge”.
In the said article, Chifire charged that Chief Justice Irene Mambilima was presiding over the most corrupt judiciary in the history of post independent Zambia.
He accused Chief Justice Mambilima of ignoring corruption evidence against judges who presided over the Savenda vs Stanbic Bank case.
In count two, Chifire allegedly committed contempt of court when he wrote to Chief Justice Mambilima concerning the matter,
“I submit to your office that this Supreme Court judgment has affected the delivery of the justice system in Zambia and if the judgement is allowed to stand in view of the glaring omissions on the part of the Supreme Court, it has a potential to inhibit justice and development jurisprudence,” read part of Chifire’s letter to Chief Justice Mambilima on May 10, 2018.
In count three, Chifire is accused of causing to be published another article on Zambian Watchdog, disparaging the judiciary, on June 15, 2018.
And in the fourth and final count, Chifire is accused of causing to be published an article in The Mast Newspaper an article headlined “Judiciary one of the most corrupt in Zambia” on July 2, 2018.