The Council of the Law Association of Zambia has condemned public attacks on judges and lawyers following a judgement of the Supreme Court in a case of Savenda v Stanbic Bank, saying it is contemptuous to allege bias and incompetence by a court.
In a statement, Wednesday, the LAZ Council expressed concern with reports carried in newspapers and online media, concerning the Supreme Court’s decision in the Savenda v Stanbic case.
“LAZ has read with grave concern the various newspaper reports and comments carried by the Vision and Rainbow Newspapers and the online publication, the Zambian Watchdog and the Zambian Observer on the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Savenda Management Services v Stanbic Bank Zambia Limited, Selected Judgement No. 10 of 2018 (the Savenda matter),” they stated.
The LAZ Council observed that the reports alleged incompetence and bias on the part of three-man panel of judges which decided the case as well as corruption on some Lordships, judges and a senior member of LAZ, Eric Silwamba.
“The reports and comments give opinion on the decision and also make very serious allegations as follows: (I) Incompetence, bias and impropriety on the part of three-man panel of judges which decided the case comprising, justice Hamaundu, Musonda and Mutuna. (II) Corruption on the part of some Lordships, judges of the Supreme Court, a member of the Constitution Court Bench, the judge President of the Court of Appeal and a senior member of LAZ, Mr Eric Silwamba, S.C. It is alleged that Mr Eric Silwamba bribed the Supreme Court Bench, a Constitutional Court Judge and the Judge President of the Court of Appeal for and on behalf of his client, Stanbic Bank Zambia Limited in order to procure the judgement in favour of his client,” they stated.
And the LAZ Council observed that the comments and allegations were calculated to interfere with the proper administration of justice.
“As LAZ, we have understood these comments and allegations as being calculated to interfere with the proper administration of justice: calculated at instilling fear in the minds of the named and other judges for purposes of impending their independence in the adjudicative process and inhibiting the discharge of the duty that counsel owes to his client,” they stated.
“LAZ is mandated to be sure the advancement of the rule of law and the proper administration of justice. It also mandated to protect members of the profession in the conduct of their practice and to guide the public on all legal issues, which are in the public domain. In addition LAZ is cognisant of the fact that the judiciary, by its nature, is insulated from making public statements in order to preserve it’s dignity. LAZ is also cognisant of the duty placed upon advocates to discharge their duties to their clients fearlessly and independently.”
They noted that it was contemptuous to allege bias and incompetence by a court.
The council warned that any person who made such allegations was liable to be cited for contempt of court and if convicted, would be imprisonment.
“We therefore wish to guide all media houses, online media and the public at large as follows: (I) Whilst members of the public are at liberty to comment on decisions of the courts in Zambia and exchange views on the decisions, it is contemptuous to allege bias and incompetence by a court. A party and any person who makes such allegations is liable to be cited for contempt of court and if convicted, sentenced to imprisonment or to pay a fine or both. This power is exercisable by the courts for purposes of protecting the integrity, reputation and independence of the judiciary,” they stated.
Meanwhile, the LAZ Council noted that a proper forum to submit such allegations was with the Judicial Complaints Commission.
“(II) The Constitution of Zambia does not provide absolute protection to judges, but makes them accountable to the people from whom judicial authority is derived, which the judiciary merely exercises on behalf of the people. As such, where a member of the public has justifiable cause to allege bias of incompetence on the part of an adjudicator, the proper forum to make and submit such allegations is the Judicial Complaints Commission,” they stated.
The council advised that if any counsel was wanting, members of the public could report that counsel to the Legal Practitioners Committee of LAZ.
They observed that the decision of a three-man panel of judges, as was the case of Savenda v Stanbic, were decisions of the entire court comprising of 13 judges of the Supreme Court.
“(III) With regard to the conduct of an advocate or counsel, if the conduct is wanting, members of the public can report counsel to the Legal Practitioners Committee of LAZ. (IV) The decision of a three man panel of the Supreme Court as was the case in the decision of Savenda matter, are decisions of the entire court comprising of 13 judges of the Supreme Court. It is only in situations where there are dissenting views that decisions of the majority carry the day. In addition, by virtue of Article 127 of the Constitution, the constitutional Court is a stand-alone court independent of the Supreme Court,” they stated.
“We therefore do not see what role the constitutional Court judge named and alleged as a recipient of the bribe had to play in the decision making process by the Supreme Court in the Savenda matter. (v) In the discharge of his duties, Mr Eric Silwamba is compelled to represent his client without fear or favour and independently. Thus, any attempts at casting unsubstantiated allegations of criminal acts are calculated at instilling fear in the mind of the counsel aimed at driving him to breach the said duties. Mr Silwamba is a member in good standing with LAZ and has advanced the goals of LAZ with distinction.”
The LAZ Council noted that the Anti-Corruption Act criminalised any acts of bribery and corruption and members of the public had the duty to report such criminal allegations to the police and Anti-Corruption commission.
They further condemned any acts by media houses or the public which were calculated at interfering with the proper administration of justice.
“In conclusion we condemn in the strongest terms possible any acts by media houses or indeed any person which are calculated at interfering with the proper administration of justice. We also condemn any acts aimed at sniffling the independence of both the Bench and the Bar in the discharge of their functions,” stated the LAZ Council.