Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) president Linda Kasonde says there is need for transparency in the manner in which judges are appointed.
And Kasonde said government officials must not threaten citizens’ rights to speak freely, otherwise the country will return to the days of looking over one’s shoulder at all times.
Speaking on Radio Phoenix’s Let the People Talk, Kasonde said there was need for judicial reforms in the appointment procedure for judges.
“There is need for judicial reforms in terms of how judges are appointed because it’s clear from the calls that we have been receiving that there seems to be some sort of mystery as to what the process is. Perhaps if there was more transparency for everyone to see. For example in South Africa, all appointments apart from the chief justice, deputy chief justice, president of the higher court are made by the judicial service commission. There is an interview process which is public. So anybody who hears that a certain judge wants to apply to go to court can go there and make representations. I think we should move towards a system where things like that can come to the front. More transparency would be useful,” Kasonde said.
“For example there was one applicant who was stopped from being a judge because a woman who he had a child with made representations that he hadn’t been paying his maintenance, on that issue alone he was disqualified. I think we should move to a system where things like that can come to the front. Although there are certain positives to our system as well but more transparency would be useful.”
Asked if she felt some judges were corruptly appointed, Kasonde said the association could not make such unfounded allegations.
“Judges apply to the judicial service commission for them to be judges and there is an interview process which goes ahead. And once the judicial service commission selects candidates, the names go to the President for appointment. The President then appoints and then the names are taken to Parliament for scrutiny. So I think it’s not for us to state whether or not there is any means of corruptly appointing of judges. I wouldn’t want to make any unfounded allegations without any evidence,” Kasonde said.
Kasonde also said the association was quick to react to threats on the Judiciary from government because they were more serious in that the Executive had the powers to execute them.
“We came out quickly when the Judiciary was being attacked by the government. There is only one party in power and they have the power to control the governance in the whole country. So when somebody makes an attack on the Judiciary, it becomes a very serious issue because they actually have the instruments to effect what they are threatening. That is why we stepped in very quickly when an attack is made like when we heard an attack by Mr [Amos] Chanda, we came out very quickly because that’s a real threat if something can really happen. We hope that something of that nature will not be implemented,” Kasonde said.
And commenting on threats from Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo and the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority that people would be prosecuted based on social media comments, Kasonde said although defamation and cyber bullying were an issue of concern; it wasn’t helpful to threaten citizens.
“Issues such as cyber bullying and defamation are issues of concern but I don’t think that it’s helpful to have the public threatened in terms of the ability to speak freely. I think those of us who are old enough to remember what was like to live in a time where you constantly had to look over your back and watch over what you are saying amongst different people, we should all agree that we don’t want to return to such a time because we have made great strides in our democracy and I think it wouldn’t be helpful to return to such a time. And indeed the ability to have freedom of expression is helpful to everyone. Nobody should be afraid of criticism,” said Kasonde.
“Democracy thrives where the market place of ideas, and the more ideas you have the more likely you will be able to have solutions to your problems. So it’s helpful to allow people to speak their minds whether they are for you or against you so that you can get the best ideas on everything that everybody is saying. And through that, you can find the solution to as many problems you have, and there are many problems in this country from poverty, illiteracy, health issues, housing and so forth. So we need to allow people to speak freely because only through that, we can become better.”
Meanwhile, LAZ vice-president Eddie Mwitwa said Zambia could do better to remove the perception that that judicial appointments were political in nature.
“We have an example where the courts have gone against the position taken by the President. The Constitution Court judgment on the minister’s case was that one particular instance that we can cite immediately. The President was on record to have said that he believed that ministers should have continued serving even after the dissolution of Parliament, the Constitutional Court went ahead and held a different position. I think we obviously can do better in terms of getting rid of the perception that the president or politicians appoint judges because that’s a process which requires judicial reforms. If we have an independent body such as the judicial service commission appointing the judges without any hand whatsoever on the president or parliament, then we can say that we have a process that is free from political interference,” Mwitwa said.
He also advised citizens to use social media responsibly.
“My personal view is that the move by the police and ZICTA to curb abuse of social media will definitely have a chilling effect on freedom of expression. But I must hasten to say to the members of the public that social media must not be used to violate the rights of others. You cannot use social media to defame others thinking you will get away with it. You also must be careful not to make alarming statements because they may land you in problems under the penal code,” said Mwitwa.