Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Judiciary reforms should start with Sakala, says Fr Bwalya

Judiciary reforms should start with Sakala, says Fr Bwalya
By Kabanda Chulu and Ernest Chanda
Tue 17 Jan. 2012, 13:58 CAT

REFORMATION of the Judiciary should start with the immediate removal of the Chief Justice Ernest Sakala and all judges and magistrates that came up with politically engineered judgments under the MMD government, says Fr Frank Bwalya.

And TIZ says there is a legacy of the previous Rupiah Banda's administration in the Judiciary which needs to be redressed urgently.

In an interview yesterday, Fr Bwalya, who is executive director of Get Involved Zambia, said President Sata and his government should have no time for judges and magistrates that betrayed public trust.

"We believe it will require three things to reform the Judiciary, firstly the obvious departure of the chief justice, the removal of all judges that came up with politically engineered judgments and reconsidering all politically engineered judgments that were procured by the MMD and their allies," Fr Bwalya said.

"When contracts expire or indeed before they get expired, such judges should be relieved of their duties and in the absence of getting rid of the chief justice, it will be like trying to clean up a system without dealing with people within the system that perpetrated or allowed the Judiciary to be compromised."

And TIZ says the Judiciary in its current form is vulnerable to government manipulation.

Supporting the Law Association of Zambia's call for immediate reforms in the institution, TIZ president Reuben Lifuka said it was wrong to have the chief justice and some judges serve on contract.

He said such an arrangement had rendered judges weak, as they had to defend their contracts through loyalty to the government.

"Our Judiciary as it stands today, renders itself vulnerable to manipulation by the executive arm of government and seriously contradicts the doctrine of separation of powers. There is absolutely no need for the Judiciary to continue with puisne (senior) judges including the chief justice serving on contract," Lifuka said.

"Transparency International Zambia has been in the forefront calling for judicial independence and we concur with the position of LAZ that it is a dilution of the desired judicial independence to have the chief justice and head of the Judiciary, and any other judges to be serving on a contract without the necessary security of tenure. It is our considered position that judicial independence implies that judges' careers should not depend on pleasing those with political and economic muscle."

Lifuka said it was unfair for anyone, including justice Sakala, to give the impression that all was well in the Judiciary.

He said TIZ had previously raised concerns about corruption and integrity deficiencies in the Judiciary, which the leadership was failing to see.

"The Zambian Judiciary needs to redeem itself and this it can only do with strong, independent leadership. Like LAZ, we found the remarks by the chief justice in response to LAZ's proposal to contribute to the reform of the Judiciary, rather short sighted and a failure to realise that while funding is important, leadership and strong management are equally necessary ingredients for creating a strong Judiciary," he said.

"While, it is a well-known fact that the Judiciary requires significant resources to discharge its functions effectively, we should not bury our heads in the sand and pretend that all is well in the Judiciary. The Judiciary must rise to the occasion and be accountable directly or indirectly to the general public that it serves."

Lifuka expressed gratitude to LAZ for calling for reforms in the Judiciary.

He said the call was long overdue, as it could not be denied that the country's Judiciary lacked independence.

"There are several highly qualified and experienced legal practitioners who can occupy these positions. This is a legacy of the previous administration which needs to be redressed urgently. We contend that judicial independence can be undermined not because of external influences alone but also because of its own internal weaknesses," said Lifuka.

In a letter dated January 11, 2012 to the Minister of Justice, Sebastian Zulu, copied to Justice Ernest Sakala and Attorney General Mumba Malila, LAZ president James Banda observed that the Judiciary needed a new momentum and a breath of fresh air to carry the reforms the association would be suggesting.

Banda stated that the Judiciary was facing a leadership challenge which should be addressed for any meaningful reforms to be undertaken.

He demanded that reforms in the Judiciary start immediately.

"We are of the view that the current leadership of the Judiciary would find it difficult to embrace and carry out the reforms we will be proposing," read in part Banda's letter to Zulu.

"Judicial reform invariably will include filling the Judiciary with forward thinking, credible, competent judges and magistrates with integrity operating under clear and transparent rules without impunity and with secure tenure."

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