UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema has written to Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo, Chief Justice Irene Mambilima and others, to offer proposals on how to save lives of citizens in congested correctional facilities and police cells during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hichilema has proposed, among other measures, that inmates facing minor charges or have scanty evidence against them be released either on police bond or unconditionally as a matter of urgency.
He notes that facilities in the country have the potential to become deadly breeding grounds for the spread of Covid-19.
This is according to a letter dated March 24, addressed to the Minister of Home Affairs, the Chief Justice of Zambia, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the director Human Rights Commission and the director Legal Aid Board.
Hichilema said the purpose of his letter was to offer proposals on how to save lives of citizens in view of the threat posed by the Covid 19 pandemic.
He added that it was also in view of the heavily congested correctional facilities and police cells which were a cesspool for communicable diseases, even without the present Covid-19 threat currently being faced.
“Aside from the direct risk to the lives of the thousands of inmates that Covid 19 virus presents due to over crowding, there is a secondary risk to others who interact with them, including but not limited to prison authorities, judiciary staff, members of the legal fraternity and numerous others, who in turn interact with their families and the general public at large. Our facilities thus have the potential to become deadly breeding grounds for the spread of this infection,” he stated.
The opposition leader proposed as a matter of urgency, the formation of a working group to review case records so as to ascertain the status of all inmates held in facilities.
“We thus propose the following: The formation, as a matter of urgency, of an ad hoc National Case Record Review Working Group comprising volunteer legal practitioners, law students, paralegals, police officers, prisons officers and legal service organisations such as Justice Forum Zambia Limited, Caritas Zambia Limited and others under the supervision of the National Prosecutions Authority and the Legal Aid Board to review all case records, dockets and goal delivery returns so as to ascertain the status of all inmates held in our facilities and the stage of prosecution of all pending matters beginning with the most congested facilities. In doing this, the Working Group shall also have regard to the risk level of each facility given its geographic location,” he stated.
Hichilema also proposed that a further analysis be undertaken by the Working Group to secure release of inmates based on the circumstances of each case.
He listed some of his proposals.
“In cases where inmates are facing minor charges or have scant evidence against them, but are held in police cells, that these be released on police bond or unconditionally as a matter of urgency and as the case maybe. In cases where trials are yet to commence owing to challenges with putting forward evidence, remandees may be discharged upon withdrawal of the cases against them. Where trials have stalled for any other reason and the cases are not of a serious nature in the opinion of the DDPs Office, Nolle Prosequi may be entered or cases discharged,” Hichilema stated.
“In deserving cases where there are bailable offences, bail may be granted on lenient term or where there are unfulfilled bail conditions these may be reviewed;All Judges and magistrates presiding over both criminal and civil matters be directed to temporarily halt all civil proceedings until further notice save in very exceptional circumstances so as to give priority to criminal proceedings; All Judges and Magistrates be encouraged to give non-custodial sentences in accordance with law in deserving cases; Juvenile, elderly and terminally ill inmates be given special consideration for speedy trial, early release or transfer.”
Hichilema hoped that the said measures could be given due consideration and acted upon as a matter of urgency without compromising the security of the state.
He added that, “An additional and overriding requirement in the implementation of the proposed measures outlined above would be to ensure continuous screening of all inmates for Covid 19 both prior to and upon release.”