Newly-elected Law Association of Zambia president Eddie Mwitwa says his association does not exist to serve the interest of politicians but to always stand by the law.
And Mwitwa says it is the expectation of the legal profession that the proposed bills meant to regulate social media usage will not impede citizens’ rights to express themselves freely.
Meanwhile, Mwitwa has described his predecessor, Linda Kasonde, as a woman of substance who is truly inspirational and a visionary leader.
Speaking when he featured on a Hot FM show dubbed ‘Frank on Hot’, Tuesday, Mwitwa said leaders must understand that authority in any nation belongs to the people and not governors.
“We need to get to a place where those who govern should realise that the masters are the governed and not the other way round. Leaders should be amenable to criticism and amenable to advice. And like some people have said, in the past as LAZ we have been perceived to be pro the opposition just because we’ve given a view that is seemingly not preferable to the ruling party. But I must take this opportunity to say that as the Law Association of Zambia, we are a statutory body that is mandated to advise government on the matters of the law (rule of law, constitutionalism and human rights) and when we take a position, we do so because our position is that we must always be on the side of the law. We are not there to make politicians happy. Either way, the opposition or the ruling party,” Mwitwa said.
And Mwitwa said it was the expectation of LAZ that the Social Media Regulation Bill that had been proposed by government would not curtail people’s rights to freely express themselves once effected into law.
“What we expect as the legal profession is that any bill that is intended to regulate the way in which people exchange ideas or views should not impede the citizens’ right to express themselves freely. We all know that freedom of expression is the bedrock to democracy and we hope that if that law indeed comes about, it is not a law that is intended to stop people from being critical of the government of the day. There is obviously need to curb certain things that are going on social media but currently for those who may be victims of social media abuse, we have a law that makes it an offence for anyone to abuse another person on social media. It doesn’t matter whether you are doing it on social media or elsewhere. So, I think there is already adequate law that protects people against such [things as social media abuse],” Mwitwa added.
“Quite okay, we were consulted as LAZ before the Health Insurance Bill went to Parliament, we made some proposals which I am not sure whether they were taken on board but what is clear is that there is a lot of anxiety in the nation about this Bill. We can only hope that the government will continue with the consultative process. There are some concerns that the Bill is yet another scheme for the government to collect more money from people who believe that they are already being overtaxed. So, we hope that this Bill will not take us to the situation where we found ourselves when the Constitution was amended and the flaws in the Constitution only came to the fore after the law had passed.”
Meanwhile, Mwitwa hailed Kasonde saying she discharged her duties without fear despite being at the helm of LAZ during a time when there was turbulence politically.
“I must pay tribute to my predecessor, she is a woman of substance, truly inspirational, a visionary and fearless leader whom I was privileged to have served right under as her vice president…It’s the first time in the association that we had a woman leading the association, but I think she came into office also at the time when there was a lot of turbulence in the political arena. We have just had the enactment of the constitutional amendment; there were a lot of issues that required interpretation or at least LAZ to give its views on matters,” Mwitwa said.
“We obviously held views that were sometimes different from the executive. You will recall the issue of ministers, when Parliament was dissolved, our views were that the ministers should have also vacated the offices but the Republican President thought otherwise, we took that matter to court and we were vindicated. So, it was more an issue of LAZ coming out with views that sometimes were not palatable to the powers that be.”
Mwitwa also said inadequate number of judges in the courts had contributed to delays in the delivery of justice.
“The inadequate numbers of adjudicators does contribute to the delays in the dispensation of justice. Now, it’s no longer just an adage that justice should not be delayed and [the] Constitution explicitly provides that justice must not be delayed. But, unfortunately, I don’t think that we have the necessary structures at the moment to ensure that that objective is attained,” he observed.
“There are so many factors that contribute to delays in the administration of justice, some of which are that currently we have [an] inadequate number of judges. If you spoke to a High Court judge today, they would probably tell you that they are handling 400 cases, that’s one judge sitting to hear cases and the same judge has to deliver ruling and judgment, and the same judge has to attend to other functions of that particular office.”
He further said the Legal Aid Board needed to beef up its personnel.
“And for me I think the numbers at the legal aid board need to be beefed up because as long as you have a situation where the number of people to access the services of a lawyer far outweigh the available numbers of lawyers, you always have situations where people who don’t need to be in prison will be stuck in prison just because there is nobody to speak on their behalf,” said Mwitwa.