Sunday, July 08, 2007
Sunday July 08, 2007 [04:00]
The advice by Chief Justice Ernest Sakala to the newly trained magistrates should be embraced not only by the new members of adjudicators but also the entire bench. This advice is not new but it is very important and thus worth repeating. Justice Sakala is urging members of the bench not to become parties to those who delay the dispensation of justice in various ways.
He also advises them to be exemplary in their conduct both on and off the bench and most importantly, to maintain the highest standards of honesty and integrity.
It is this last point that we would like to emphasise because some magistrates and judges have failed to pass the test of honesty and integrity, qualities that are cardinal in the administration of justice. They have failed to resist temptations from various quarters to engage themselves in corrupt activities or activities, that bring shame and damn on their noble profession.
From available statistics, a good number of new magistrates succumb to corrupt manoeuvres as soon as they sit on the bench. A few have been dismissed for soliciting money from the people that appeared before them. In some cases, some magistrates have been dismissed even over little amounts like K200,000.
We know that the conditions of service in the judiciary, like is the case with the entire civil service, may not be attractive. But this will in no way justify corrupt practices by our magistrates or indeed all the people involved in the administration of justice.
So as our new magistrates take their positions on the bench, they should remind themselves of this challenge to remain morally and professionally upright. Temptations will always be there but it is the duty of a professional magistrate or judge to resist such temptations and put an end to them by taking corrective measures and actions.
More than ever before, the judiciary is today under a microscopic eye because there are so many cases before our courts on a daily basis that require justice from our adjudicators.
A corrupt magistrate or judge cannot administer justice because his or her sense of justice will be weakened by the bribe that they will accept to receive. But our adjudicators are expected to administer justice without any blemish.
At a time that the country is trying or struggling to fight against corruption, an independent and corrupt-free judiciary is very key to the success of the fight. Nothing will be achieved if our men and women charged with the responsibility of administering justice decide to compromise themselves for whatever reasons or considerations.
In saying all this, we are not in any way attempting to accuse the judiciary of anything but we are trying to remind both the new and old adjudicators of the challenges in their administration of justice. This is especially so because we have seen some very good judges and magistrates who have fallen on account of corruption.
As the country is well aware, justice Matthew Ngulube - one of the best Chief Justices Zambia has ever had - left the bench in a very embarrassing situation. He was tempted by the powerful who dangled a few thousands dollars in his face and justice Ngulube could not resist the temptation. His departure from the judiciary left a very big, if not an indelible, dent both on his career and the image of our judiciary.
If they do not guard against such temptations, our judges or magistrates can find themselves in such situations which have the potential to permanently ruin their noble career. These are the lessons that our new magistrates should not forget to learn from as they join the bench.
As justice Sakala pointed out, magistrates who fail to meet the high standards expected of them will be of no good use to the public and the judiciary as well. They should also constantly remind themselves that the public is watching over everything they are doing, whether they are operating in Lusaka or Shang'ombo.
That is why they should make a difference by ensuring that justice is not delayed by unnecessary adjournments occasioned either by the court or parties to cases. Sometimes, many cases take too long to be completed. Some accused persons even end up serving 'prison sentences' during their stay in remand so much that by the time they are acquitted, they feel like they have just finished serving a sentence. And the much talked about prison congestion is sometimes a direct effect of some unnecessary adjournments.