CHIEF Justice Dr Mumba Malila says corrupt judicial officers are a grave inhibition to the fulfillment of justice.

And Dr Malila says adjudicators should be open to criticism.

Meanwhile, Dr Malila says the failure rate at Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education (ZIALE) is distressing.

Speaking during the inaugural Lucy Sichone Memorial Lecture dubbed “Access to justice in the wake of increased civic education”, Thursday, Dr Malila said access to justice would be hardly guaranteed if the courts were manned by morally wicked individuals.

“It is beyond dispute in my view that in addition to the Judiciary being independent, access to justice will only be meaningful if certain basic infrastructure is in place and is manned by an adequate number of quality personnel. For instance, where the courts are not sufficiently manned by men and women who are morally wicked, (sic) then real access to justice can hardly be guaranteed. Indeed, corrupt judicial officers are a grave inhibition to the fulfilment of justice even where physical or other infrastructure is in place. Access to justice is not determined by the user-friendly procedure mechanisms in place for the resolution of disputes either, it is indeed only depended by the moral quality of the dispensers of justice. All these are as important as other factors such as the physical conditions of the premises where justice is dispensed. For example, do the premises guarantee security of those seeking justice or assisting it, has it got facilities for differently abled persons coming to or in search of justice?” he wondered.

“What is the quality of justice itself? What period does it take for the delivery of this justice? Are the general principles of due process observed? What about affordability in terms of the cost of seeking justice as in money and time? Are there quality legal advisors that assist those seeking justice? So to have access to justice we need to remove barriers to both quantity and quality. We need to deal with obstacles which are financial, geographic, logistical or gender specific in character.”

And Dr Malila said adjudicators should be open to criticism, citing the Supreme Court sentencing of journalist Derick Sinjela and Human Rights defender Gregory Chifire as an example of when the judiciary acted too quickly.

“In which year was that? When we punished people, a couple of them. We flexed our muscle a bit too quickly, too soon. If you read the official opening of the 2022 criminal session, what I was doing is actually to urge adjudicators to be slow in exercising this power [of] contempt. Because it is actually amenable to abuse, and secondly, it also contravenes quite a number of rights. I think we have come to a point where we need to respect rights in whatever we do. So my view now, my latest position is, as reflected in the speech I gave at the official opening of the 2022 criminal session, and if you looked at it you will see that I am urging adjudicators to be very slow in dealing with (contempt of court) and to be open to criticism. I think criticism always makes us better people. When you are criticised, you understand the criticism and you accept it, the next thing you will do is to address things and make sure that you don’t repeat the same things. But once you are allergic to criticism, you are bound to fall into a valley,” Dr Malila said.

“Times are changing even the UK itself, I think there have been quite a lot of changes and we should not be resisting change. As you say, access to justice means having user-friendly courts. What we see now is that people are very scared when they are in court, they can’t even look at a judge when they are fully dressed, you know they feel very scared, intimidated and that, coupled with this address of ‘My Lord, Your Lordship’ and the bowing and all that. As you said, there are many other forms of showing respect which do not take it to that extreme. So I think those are interesting issues that need to be relooked. If our friends in Kenya are doing it and in many other countries, they have kind of brought all this intimidating stuff down, I think it is something we would wish to look at.”

Dr Malila said a change of mindset was needed in the Judiciary.

“We know all these issues which I have spoken about which are barriers to access to justice. A lot of them do not require an injection of resources, which are very scarce, to be addressed. Many of them have to do with the attitude. It is just the manner in which people have the culture and the way people have been brought up. There is for example no need to inject any financial resources to change lazy people from having a lazy attitude to having a hard working one. There is no need to inject financial resources to change people from being corrupt to being resourceful without having to seek bribes. So I did state in my inaugural address that one of the things which we shall do in the Judiciary is to work on the mindset,” Dr Malila said.

“…At the moment we know for instance it is very difficult to talk about failure to deliver judgements timely as being misconduct. I think there is a way of redefining misconduct or incompetence to include failure to deliver judgements timely. So we are looking into a lot of those things and we hope that by the time our term ends, whenever that will be, we should have made some progress in addressing some of those issues.”

When asked how his administration would improve public confidence and remove the so-called “bad eggs” from the Judicial System, Dr Malila said it was not easy to get rid of judges, but added that he was committed to changing their mindsets.

“There are no bad eggs in the Judiciary. In every institution, there are obviously people that will not apply themselves as much as they should. What we shall do in the initial period is to try and sensitise people, I spoke earlier about trying to inculcate an attitude change towards work. You see, judges are not employed from markets…It is not easy, the Judiciary is not easy because all judges have security of tenure. The ones that don’t have security of tenure are the magistrates, those are very easy to get rid of if they are not performing. But the ones that annoy people the most in the superior courts have security of tenure. A Chief Justice is not like a school captain who will be moving around with a whip ‘why are you late’, you don’t do things like that. So it is not as easy to get people to work but we shall be definitely dealing with the attitude issue and try and see how we can get it resolved,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dr Malila said the failure rate at Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education (ZIALE) was distressing.

“Coming to the failure rate at ZIALE. Yesterday, I had a meeting with the director of ZIALE and the picture is quite distressing. Distressing in the sense that I will be calling to the bar one student out of 390 something, just imagine, just one passed and that is the only one that I will call to the bar in the next week or so. Why do we have such a bad failure rate? It would appear that it is a combination of factors but that at this particular occasion, I think the COVID-19 thing has contributed. How has it contributed? Because for the first time, I understand lectures were exclusively done online and quite a lot of people are not used to that kind of delivery and they take things a little casually. I think things will improve with time especially as we are not likely to have a change in this situation anytime soon. So I think it is something of a passing phase I hope,” he said.

He expressed concern on how some universities trained law students.

“Generally there are issues about the education system. Dr [O’brien] Kaaba is from the University of Zambia, he probably may have a different experience from those that come from private universities. We spent the first one year in the School of Humanities before we went to law school. Now some universities are taking students directly into law school and they do a three year program without doing ADS100, without doing English and that is what we used to do for the whole year. The problem then is that you find someone gets a law degree and they can hardly write English. They will write something close to English but not quite. I think this WhatsApp English is not helping at all. People fail to read books now, you cannot sit down and read a book,” said Dr Malila.