THE decision by the Judicial Complaints Commission to recommend the removal of High Court Registrar David Simusamba from the judiciary because of the conduct he exhibited during the time that he served as Lusaka Magistrate makes sad reading. We hope our brother will be able to successfully exculpate himself. However, the development serves as a reminder to those who wield power to exercise it with restraint for they are in those positions to serve the people and not themselves.

This is even more expected from judicial officers whose duty is to dispense justice. Having the power to interpret the law and mete out punishment on those who contravene laws comes with a lot of expected responsibility and humility. Magistrates and judges are not the law unto themselves, and as such, they always have to remember that the opportunity to adjudicate on criminal matters or to preside over legal disputes is a privilege rather than an advantage.

Zambia has over 17 million citizens, some of whom are exceptionally intelligent, in some cases, even more intelligent than our judicial officers. Some have far better paying jobs and occupy very respectable positions in society. Others have abundant resources at their disposal. But all these citizens of various backgrounds are expected to relinquish their prestigious statuses when they appear before a judge or magistrate. Society also has distinguished State Counsel and professors of law who command so much respect in the legal fraternity, but they submit themselves before a magistrate and recognize him or her as the ordained judicial authority. Judges and magistrates must never abuse this recognition and treat people who bow before them as fools. Our judicial officers must not reward the respect they are accorded with arrogance and pomposity.

Being a judge or magistrate is just like any other job. It’s not different from a doctor or a teacher. If we can tell a doctor to exhibit exemplary behaviour and treat patients in a considerate and professional manner, we should also tell our judicial officers to treat the people they serve with the dignity deserving of other humans. When a judge gets sick, he must submit himself before a medical practitioner to get help, and that treatment is expected in return when the doctor seeks justice before a judicial officer. That is how society works.

Imagine having a doctor who thinks he is more important than any other person in society who does not have the power he possesses. Imagine having a lecturer at a university who thinks he is intellectually superior because of the position he holds at a learning institution and that his students are dull or stupid. That would be the case if a judge or magistrate portrayed himself as a superior being. Our point is that our roles in society will always differ but there is a need for all of us to accommodate each other.

Judicial officers who carry themselves as superior citizens, occupying advantageous positions in society, will always have a challenge respecting the dignity of other human beings. Such judicial officers will also most likely look down upon less privileged citizens who appear before them to seek justice. And that is the beginning of many problems that result in institutions such as the Judicial Complaints Commission recommending disciplinary action or removal from the bench of a judicial officer. Like we stated above, this makes sad reading, but presents a set of lessons.

We have consistently reminded our leaders that the exercise of power must be the constant practice of self-limitation and modesty. We can also add by warning that abusing these powers to fix political opponents, real or imaginary, usually comes with eventual consequences. Often, we see our judicial officers acting in a manner that is legal but unfair. They know that their actions are unfair, but they do so anyway in the interest of external influence or to settle personal scores. Usually, posterity has the last say.

Sometimes, nature punishes people who mistreat others by keeping them alive long enough so that they can see how those they mistreated overcame the challenges and prospered. Those who are privileged to serve others at the pedestal of society must, at all costs, resist the temptation of using their positions to destroy the lives of people whom they don’t like. Misguided hatred can lead one to cause atrocities and end up on the upper end of the embarrassment scale.