The Lusaka High Court has dismissed, for lack of merit, the matter in which Eastern Province minister Makebi Zulu and two other lawyers had petitioned the court over the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) Legal Practitioners Committee’s decision to summon them for criticising the appointment of lawyers to represent State Counsel Nchima Nchito.

In March 2017, Zulu and lawyers Hobday Kabwe and Anna Mwitwa Mwewa, sued LAZ seeking the court’s declaration that Rule 17 of the Legal Practitioners Practice Rules of 2002 is unconstitutional, null and void as it forbids them from enjoying their right to freedom of expression if there was need to comment on a matter of public interest.

They also sought the court’s declaration that Rule 17 (5) and (6) of the Legal Practitioners’ Practice Rules of 2002, in it’s current form, violates their right of freedom of expression as prescribed by Article 23 of the Constitution, among other reliefs.

The trio’s grievance in the matter was embedded in an announcement that was made by LAZ sometime in March 2017 that it would offer free legal services to Nchima who was charged with impersonation in the subordinate court.

But in a judgment delivered on June 24, High Court judge Mapani Kawimbe dismissed the allegations that the petitioners were discriminated when they were summoned to appear before the LPC, for lack of merit.

She added that for the court to be satisfied that the petitioners were discriminated, they should have proved that LAZ treated them differently from other members of the association and without good reason.

Judge Kawimbe agreed with LAZ that any member who was perceived to be in breach of the rules of the association can be subjected to an LPC disciplinary hearing.

“I do, however, find that the LAZ Rules permit the Legal Practitioners Committee (LPC) to hold disciplinary hearings and in so doing may issue summons. This, in my view, does not amount to discrimination and cannot be a basis for assailing the LPC statutory functions. Therefore, all members of LAZ, including the petitioners, are bound by these rules,” she said.

Judge Kawimbe said there was nothing extraordinary in the petitioners’ circumstances that would require her to make a finding of discrimination.

She added that the allegations of discrimination lacked merit and accordingly dismissed them.

“The court finds that it cannot determine whether the alleged statements offended the LPC Publicity Rules. It cannot equally determine whether the publicity rules offend Articles 11, 20 and 23 of the Constitution, as any attempt will amount to prejudicing the outcome of the LPC disciplinary hearing,” judge Kawimbe said.

She observed that the petitioners belonged to a regulated association, adding that the appropriate forum for resolving their grievances lay within the procedures created by LAZ Rules instead of court.

Judge Kawimbe therefore ordered that Rule 17 (5) and (6) of the LPC Practice Rules of 2002 does not violate the petitioners’ right to freedom of expression and protection from discrimination as enshrined in the Constitution.

Judge Kawimbe awarded costs to the respondent, LAZ and granted leave for appeal.