The Law Association of Zambia has condemned The Mast Newspaper for attacking Constitutional Court judges in an editorial opinion of March 5.

In a statement, Tuesday, the Council of the Law Association of Zambia stated that although judges were not immune to criticism, such was expected to be responsible and in good faith.

LAZ outlined correct procedures of registering complaints against judges.

“The Law Association of Zambia is deeply concerned by the editorial opinion that appeared in The Mast Newspaper (The Mast) edition of 5th March 2018, under the caption, “Scrap ConCourt”. LAZ notes that in the said editorial, The Mast made general comments questioning the competence and experience of all the judges of the Constitutional Court and encouraged the abolishment of the Constitutional Court. LAZ has previously advised members of the public who have concerns about the conduct or competence of any judicial officer to report such concerns to the relevant authorities as established by law,” the LAZ Council stated.

“The Constitution of Zambia has laid down a clear procedure for removal of a judge which every aggrieved litigant or interested person is supposed to follow. The Constitution stipulates in Article 143 (b) and (c) that a judge shall be removed from office for incompetence and misconduct. Article 144 (1) further provides that the removal of a judge maybe initiated by the Judicial Complaints Commission or a complaint made to the Judicial Complaints Commission. Upon receipt of a complaint or initiating the process, and if the Judicial Complaints Commission forms the view that a prima facie case has been established against a judge, the Judicial Complaints Commission enjoined by Article 144(2) of the Constitution to submit a report to the President on the matter. The President must thereafter suspend the judge concerned within seven days from he date of receipt of the report, depending further proceedings in the process of the removal of the judge. A judge faced with such a complaint also has a Constitutional right to defend himself or herself.”

LAZ advised The Mast to desist from making comments which undermined the authority of the Judiciary.

“It is LAZ’s view that the process of laying a complaint before the Judicial Complaints Commission is open to any person, entity or institution, especially that the Constitution in Article 118(1) states, in that part, “the Judicial authority of the Republic derives from the people of Zambia”. General statements or allegations that attack the competence of judges or judicial officers are in the very least unfair but also serve to undermine the authority of the Judiciary and erode public confidence in the institution. As a Constitutional democracy, Zambia cannot function without an independent Judiciary and one in which the people who seek justice can have their utmost confidence. LAZ therefore condemns the editorial opinion of The Mast Edition of 5th March 2018,” stated the LAZ Council.

“LAZ recognizes the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press as enshrined in Article 20 of the Constitution. LAZ is also cognizant of the fact that like any other arm of government, judges are not immune from criticism. However, such criticism must be objective, in good faith, responsible and specific to the conduct of any particular judge in the performance of his/her specific judicial function. LAZ calls on members of the press and the public in general to desist from making comments that undermine the authority of the Judiciary, undermine the administration of justice or erode public confidence in this fundamental institution in the country’s democracy. LAZ also reiterates its call to the members of the public to desist from attacking the Judiciary and exercise the right to lodge complaints to the Judicial Complaints Commission where incompetence or misconduct of a judge is alleged.”