CiSCA warns Judiciary against intimidating court officers

The Civil Society Constitutional Agenda (CiSCA) says the suspension of Livingstone Magistrate Benjamin Mwelwa and lawyer Gilbert Phiri, was meant to intimidate court officers from demanding fairness in their operations as they dispense justice.

And CiSCA has asked the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) to emulate President Edgar Lungu’s willingness to commit to the process of reconciliation and dialogue.

At a Non Governmental Organisations Coordinating Council (NGOCC) organised press briefing today, CiSCA Co-Chairperson Nicholas Phiri said the decision by the judiciary to suspend Mwelwa and Phir was against the Zambian laws and was aimed at intimidating judicial officers in dispensing justice in an impartial, competent and independent manner.

“CiSCA received the news of the suspension of Livingstone Magistrate by the Registra of the High Court, Charles Kafunda with shock. It is disturbing that the judicial officer in question was suspended for upholding the Constitution of Zambia when he appropriately referred an application for interpretation for the extent of powers of the DPP in exercise of the Nolle Prosequi. We believe that the High Court has no powers to suspend judicial officers and hence this action goes against the Zambian laws including section three of the judicial code of conduct of 1999, and 55 of the subordinate court Act, chapter 28 of the Laws of Zambia among others,” Phiri said.

“CiSCA believes that there is a systematic scheme aimed at intimidating judicial officers in dispensing justice in an impartial, competent and independent manner. Not long ago, lawyer Gilbert Phiri, an officer in the justice system was suspended from appearing before any court in Zambia for allegedly questioning the operations of the judiciary through a Facebook posting before being reported to the Law Association of Zambia disciplinary committee. Council Phiri has already been charged and sentenced by the complaint which in this case is the judiciary. One wonders what else remains to be done when his case has been determined by the complainant. Is this the new order of the rule of law in our country?”

And Phiri expressed concern over the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Lillian Siyunyi’s discontinuation of Court cases involving those who are close to the government of the day.

“CiSCA is deeply concerned and troubled with the manner in which some Constitution office bearers such as the Director of Public Prosecutions have been discharging public functions. Not withstanding the power vested in the DPP by the Constitution to discontinue a criminal case at any stage before judgment is delivered. It is worrying that the DPP is entering nolle prosequi indiscriminately and almost exclusively with cases that involve those in power or connected to the ruling class with no regard to public interest, administration of justice and judicial integrity as provided for in the Constitution. We would like to remind the DPP that allegiance is to Constitution and not to any authority or individual because the DPP is not above the law,” he said.

Meanwhile, Phiri asked the UPND to move on from their differences with the PF and embrace reconciliation.

“I think the dialogue we are talking about is between PF and UPND and for the good of the country, the two parties must put their political deferences aside and see eye to eye because they have no other option but to reconcile in the interest of moving the country forward. They have both been claiming that they have the interests of Zambians at heart and that the country is bigger than every single one of them, so they must come together and iron out the issues that has brought about this tension which has resulted in violence and hate speech,” Phiri said.

“By now I want to believe that you all are aware of the root cause of what we are experiencing today. The divisions and the seemingly partisan political atmosphere in the country is clearly the 2016 general election results but also most importantly, the violence that was witnessed prior to the elections and after elections. So as a country, we need to see this dialogue taking place and not just as a political process but as a people process by embracing the divergent political adversities so that we can be able to move on as a country if we are to the Zambia that we envision.”

He commended President Edgar Lungu for taking a bold step of interacting with members of the opposition parties in Parliament.

“I must state here that it was a very bold decision that President Edgar Lungu took at the opening of the second session of the 12th National Assembly in Parliament last Friday to go and shake hands with Hon Chishimba Kambwili and other UPND members. Whether that was part of political expedience or not, at least that’s just how it should be. Despite the differences that political leaders may be facing and the differences of opinion, those in power should be the first ones to reach out to those that are not in power and what the President did should be extended to other political parties like the UPND and they should also welcome that and move on as a nation, they just have to get along for the sake of this country.” said Phiri.

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