CHIEF Justice Mumba Malila says crimes of an economic nature deserve expeditious disposal because of their effect on the economy.

And Justice Minister Mulambo Haimbe has reiterated government’s commitment to upholding the principles of separation of powers and allowing the judiciary to dispense the highest form of justice based on integrity and independence.

Speaking during the ceremonial opening of the High Court criminal sessions for 2022 held under the theme “When Patriotism Meets Justice”, Justice Malila said the soon to be launched Economic and Financial Crimes Court at the level of the Subordinate Court would ensure that illicitly obtained wealth was speedily recovered and restored to the public fiscus.

“Patriotism abhors impunity. Criminal prosecution must be instituted against alleged wrongdoers who should be afforded a fair opportunity to answer to allegations against them. Crimes of an economic nature, especially, deserve expeditious disposal because of their effect on the economy of the country. In this connection, I am pleased to announce that administratively an Economic and Financial Crimes Court at the level of the Subordinate Court will soon be operational. It is designed to offer specialised, fast-track court services, and ensure that, all due process requirements being observed, illicitly obtained wealth is speedily recovered and restored to the public fiscus so as to enable the Government channel the resources to build that essential road, pay that old village grandmother the social cash transfer money she so badly needs, repair that collapsed roof of the old school; and stock that public hospital with essential drugs,” he said.

“Only last Friday, pursuant to the power entrusted in me by Article 133(3) of the Constitution and section 3(3) of the High Court Act, I signed a Statutory Instrument that will establish the Economic and Financial Crimes Division of the High Court for purposes of handling appeals from its Subordinate Court sibling. This, I think, is patriotism. Yet I am convinced that it will call for even greater patriotism on the part of judicial officers and Judges that will be assigned to work in these courts.”

Justice Malila said it was vital for those employed to dispense justice to deliver true and unbiased judgments.

“My interpretation of our theme for this year is that all that seek justice, and those of us employed to dispense it, must train in patriotism. Patriotism should not allow anyone of us to acquiesce in any way in the obliteration of fundamental liberties and in ignoring the suppression of rectitude and accountability. Patriotism enjoins all of us to question wrong doing, at least. True patriots shoulder the responsibility of holding their politicians accountable to guarantee that the government remains a valid depiction of the people’s wishes,” he said.

“When the country appears polarized by petty squabbles and antipathies between political players, true patriots rise above them all and look at the bigger picture. In my view, the true test of our patriotic character is to stand for the right thing even if it is unpopular to our self-interest, perceived or real. True patriots in the Judiciary will bravely step forward, not only to dispense justice as they deliver true, unbiased judgments, but also speak out within their judgments when the path the country is treading needs to be altered for the benefit of all of its citizens.”

He said the Judiciary would continue to insist that the assurances made by the new administration for a more independent and financially autonomous Judiciary were realized.

“Zambia’s democratic credentials were once again tested. General elections came and went. A change of guards at the political scene occurred. The citizens’ expectations from the new Government are high. The new administration has given every indication that it will place a high premium on professionalism, the transformation of governance institutions for improved service delivery, and the elimination of any abuse of power and the use of undemocratic tactics. Assurances for a more independent and financially autonomous Judiciary have been made,” he said.

“For our part, we shall continue to insist that this autonomy is realized with dispatch. It is in fact the way to go if the Judiciary is to thrive and deliver good quality justice. This year’s theme is “When Patriotism Meets Justice”. The theme for this year is thus largely relevant and instructive. It resonates well with what the new Government has told the voters it wishes to achieve. Transformation of governance institutions for better-quality service delivery demands an attitude change and enhanced patriotism.”

And Justice Malila urged judges to be open to criticism about how they discharged their duties.

“Public criticism about the way we discharge our work is a normal feature. The natural inclination is to resent being openly vilified. There should be no reason to be excessively sensitive to criticism and to swiftly flex our muscle at anybody who questions our judgments or the decision making process. Patriotism requires equanimity in the face of criticism from the public when it is well founded. Resentment and action should only follow when the criticism is vicious and irresponsible,” said Justice Malila.

“It takes a patriot, wherever they are, to fight corruption and to resist the selfish appeal of corruption, tribalism, nepotism and cronyism. All these are the opposite of patriotism as they are concerned with personal and group interests rather than the interest of the nation as a collective. Patriotism demands that state institutions with a nationalistic culture and personnel throw the book at those who rip-off public resources to deny poor village school children a classroom desk to sit on.”

And speaking at the same event, Haimbe reiterated government’s commitment to upholding the principles of separation of powers.

“Integrity, independence and impartiality of the judiciary, as well as protection of human rights and upholding of the rule of law, are critical in the dispensation of the judiciary’s mandate. The criminal justice system, therefore, places a high burden of proof on adjudicators of the criminal justice system. The judiciary is, therefore, expected to dispense the highest form of justice as judicial patriots. I stand here to affirm that the new dawn administration will promote the principles of separation of powers and allow the judiciary to dispense the highest form of justice based on integrity, independence and equality of treatment to all,” he said.

“I am aware of the challenges that have been highlighted by the judiciary. These include the high disparity in judge case ratio, inadequate court infrastructure including prison space and inadequate legal personnel such as judges, lawyers and researchers. Your government reaffirms its commitment to ensure that justice is accessible to all by increased funding which has been demonstrated in the 2022 budget. We commit to continued increase in funding for the future in a bid to resolve the challenges and issues being faced by the judiciary.”

Haimbe said government would support all efforts to reform the law, especially the penal code and the criminal procedure code, chapters 87 and 88 of the laws of Zambia.

He said the reform of these pieces of legislation would focus on review of the offences subject to a custodial sentence in order to de-congest the prisons, and make efficient delivery of justice a reality.

Meanwhile, High Court Judge Justice Charles Zulu noted that the Judiciary faced a number of challenges that affected the timely delivery of justice.

“Allow me for a moment to share some of the key challenges which are well documented in our strategic plan for the period 2022 to 2026, which inherently have a direct connection to the issue of delayed delivery of justice. Inadequate and lack of infrastructure: with the advent of more courts in the judicial hierarchy and the creation of divisions in the high court, the need to support infrastructure development is now more evident, real and urgent than before. Access to justice without corresponding physical infrastructure suffocates the justice system. The high court building is overcrowded,” said Justice Zulu.

“Inadequate number of judges. The case load in civil matters is overwhelming. It is not commensurate to what one can term, a reasonable achievable work load within a reasonable anticipated time frame. The number of cases allocated to each judge even far transcends the number of working days in a Calendar year. Meanwhile all cases equally compete for the same scarce and limited time resource. The public’s dissatisfaction or grievances with delays against the system are real. Litigants ultimately and regrettably so, bear the brunt of a system whose workload is not compatible or commensurate with its judicial workforce.”