LAW Association of Zambia (LAZ) president Eddie Mwitwa says the Association does not side with the Judiciary in disputes where lawyers question their integrity and qualifications, but that it is trying to be on the right side of the law.
Recently, John Sangwa SC insisted that Constitutional Court judges were not qualified for those positions, adding that it was not only corrupt to offer a position to an ill qualified candidate, but it was also corrupt for such a candidate to accept it.
Sangwa also insisted that President Edgar Lungu was not eligible to contest the 2021 elections.
Former Justice Minister Dr Rodger Chongwe State Counsel also joined the eligibility debate, arguing that some of the things the ConCourt said were “rubbish”.
“You can’t say ‘because the Constitutional Court said something like this then it means something different’, no! Judges make mistakes, don’t they? They misread the words in the Constitution. The Constitutional Court, there are a lot of things they say which are rubbish. They also make mistakes. They can overlook things. And the Constitution is very clear; if you read the explanation given by Elias Chipimo, it is clear that our current President is not competent at law, does not qualify to stand for elections next year,” said Dr Chongwe.
Arising from this, LAZ issued a statement condemning the two senior lawyers for “questioning the qualifications, integrity and impartiality of Constitutional Court Judges”.
The LAZ Council noted that while courts and judicial officers were not immune to criticism, it was not a license for anyone to slander, demean or ridicule them.
Shortly after the LAZ statement was issued, the Judiciary Sangwa from appearing in any court of law in Zambia.
But last week, Dr Chongwe wrote a letter to the Association saying LAZ was seemingly siding with the oppressors and that it was not their role to turn on its members for trying to point out the shortcomings in the country, especially as they might arise from the Executive’s mismanagement.
In an interview in Lusaka, however, Mwitwa said there was nothing wrong with criticizing a judgement, but that alleging misconduct or corruption against a single judge without going through the normal channels was wrong.
He hastened to add that the LAZ Council would soon respond to Dr Chongwe.
“We have seen the letter from SC. He wrote the letter to us and I think it was the one, which was published in your newspaper. We intend to respond to him by simply indicating the position that we had taken in the statement we issued on 13th March, 2020. I think if anybody read that statement carefully, in the first paragraph, what we were concerned about, as LAZ, were the statements attributed to the two senior members of the bar. We had not concluded that they said what they were alleged to have said, but the statement was issued as a cautionary statement to our members as well as other members of the public that has any grievance or issues with the Judiciary as we indicated in the statement. Our concern is that the administration of justice should not be impaired or compromised on account of certain statements that are made about individual members of the bench or judges,” Mwitwa said.
“There is nothing wrong in criticizing the judgement, but there is everything wrong in alleging misconduct or corruption against a single judge without going through the normal channels. We are not siding with the Judiciary; we are trying to be on the right side of the law. We have an obligation, as the Association, to ensure that the administration of justice is maintained efficiently and also that it is not compromised. The public must have confidence in these institutions of governance and we have a duty to do what we must to ensure that that confidence is not undermined with certain statements that may have the effect of undermining public confidence in those constitutions. Our obligation, as LAZ, is always to be on the side of the law regardless of who else is on that side. We have a duty to maintain the law at all times.”
Meanwhile, Mwitwa said that the Association was engaging with the Judiciary on the decision that was hastily made to bar Sangwa from appearing in any court of law in the country without him first being heard.
“And this is not me passing judgement on Mr Sangwa and Dr Chongwe because those are the issues that the legal practitioners committee will have to deal with in terms of what is the verdict of LAZ on whether Mr Sangwa misconducted himself or not. On Mr Sangwa’s matter, we are engaging with the Judiciary that is why you have seen that we are not saying much because it is a very serious issue,” said Mwitwa.