CHAPTER One Foundation executive director Linda Kasonde says allowing the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to start penalising people who withdraw court cases will make claimants fearful of seeking justice.

Responding to a press query, Kasonde observed that as much the DPP’s work was being frustrated by sudden case withdrawals from claimants, there were still provisions in the law that allowed witnesses to withdraw cases as long as they satisfied the courts of law.

She cautioned that any further attempts to criminalise the withdrawal of cases would act as a deterrent to witnesses.

“The first point to note is that anyone making a complaint or giving a statement in a criminal matter must do so freely and independently without the influence of any other person. Regarding the withdrawal of a complaint, section 201 of the Criminal Procedure Code provides that a complainant may withdraw their complaint only if they satisfy the Court that there is a good reason for doing so, which means that there is already an in-built safeguard against complaints being withdrawn without good reason. You also have to bear in mind that the safety of some complainants is at risk by making complaints and may wish to withdraw a complaint on that basis. We often see that in Gender-Based-Violence (GBV) cases. The same applies to witnesses. This is why complainants and witnesses should not be coerced into coming forward to make a complaint or to give a statement. But if absolutely necessary, a witness can be compelled to come to court through a subpoena, but they are not compelled to give any evidence that may incriminate them,” Kasonde stated.

And Kasonde said she believed that there were adequate laws already in place to deal with people who withdrew their complaints or falsified statements after being bribed by suspects.

“If, indeed, there are people who bribe witnesses to withdraw their complaints or their statements, then there are already adequate laws to address that situation. Where a witness changes their testimony to give a false or misleading statement in judicial proceedings, that person may be prosecuted for the charge of perjury under sections 104 and 104A of the Penal Code. And where any person tries to tamper with a witness by bribing or threatening them, that person has committed a felony and faces up to seven years in prison. Any attempt to further criminalise withdrawing complaints or statements may deter complainants and witnesses from coming forward,” she cautioned.

But Kasonde, who sympathised with the plight of the DPP’s office for its wasted time and resources on cases that ended up being withdrawn, called for wider criminal justice reforms that strengthened the investigative agencies in Zambia.

“Chapter One Foundation sympathises with the plight of the DPP and other officers under the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) given the wasted time and resources when complaints or statements are withdrawn. We would, therefore, like to use this opportunity to call for wider criminal justice reforms that strengthen the investigative capacity of the police, as well as allow for speedy, but comprehensive trials and enhance the cooperation and collaboration between the different investigative wings for the smoother administration of justice,” stated Kasonde.

Last week, DPP Lillian Siyuni proposed an amendment to the law to introduce penalties for people with a tendency of recanting or withdrawing court cases after being bribed by suspects.

She lamented that the tendency by victims withdrawing cases from court after being bribed by suspects was terribly affecting her work due to the huge waste of time spent on cases that ended up abruptly closed.