Remarks by the Honourable Chief Justice, Dr. Mumba Malila, SC, made at the launch of Provincial Resident Judgeship, made at Solwezi on 7th February, 2022
It is my pleasure to speak at this occasion – the 2022 ceremonial opening of the High Court Sessions here at Solwezi. This occasion is meant to be one that marks the commencement of the new legal year, setting out the goals and expectations of stakeholders in the criminal justice system in this new year. I have, however, taken infinite pleasure to use this occasion to say something beyond the one year’s criminal sessions for which this occasion has been called. This is about a constitutional imperative.
Article 120(4) of the Constitution directs that our courts, except the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court, shall be devolved to the provinces and progressively to districts. I take it that the purpose of this provision is to ensure that court services are gradually decentralized and brought to the users in the provinces and ultimately the districts. It is all about facilitating physical access to courts by the people of Zambia in the provinces and districts. This is in fulfillment of the broader concept of access to justice.
In point of fact, in my inaugural address to Judiciary staff on 22nd December, 2021, I spoke to this very issue: the need to increase access to justice for all. This is principally because access to justice is not merely a right in itself – it is the key enabler for making other fundamental rights realisable. In a sense, it is the most central of the rights that people, especially the litigating public, have. Without it our other rights – be they property rights, contractual rights, public law rights or human rights – are phantasmal.
And in that address, I meant access to Justice in its wider context that entails more than just positioning court houses close to the communities or shortening the distance to places where justice is dispensed and the physical state of such premises. I meant access to justice in the sense that includes other variables and parameters like, the procedural mechanism for the resolution of disputes, the quality of the human and material resources available, the quality of justice delivered, the time it takes for the delivery of justice, the moral quality of the allocators of justice, the affordability of the cost of seeking justice in terms of time and money, the quality of the legal advisers that assist litigants and accused persons – especially, and above all, the virtuousness and impartiality of the operators of the system.
With the new year upon us, and guided as we are by the supreme interests of the people of Zambia, we in the Judiciary have started to focus on building a judiciary that court users, wherever they are, can trust; one that is fit, ready and willing to perform its constitutional role to the expectations of the people in whom judicial authority reposes. We are in the process of effecting widespread institutional changes/reforms in the Judiciary – starting with the cultivation of an appropriate work culture and attitude, heightening a sense of individual responsibility on the part of adjudicators and support staff as well as entrenching values for individual and institutional accountability. We are re-examining internal court rules, policies and processes, and may, if that appears necessary, begin to question obsolete, meaningless and impractical traditions and mentalities.
More relevantly, in addition to strengthening the institution itself, we intend to increase access to court houses and infrastructure as well as court support services. We are determined to see that each person in Zambia that has a legal grievance which he/she desires to settle in court can easily get to a court house to have that grievance vindicated, and when at court, to get justice – and I mean real justice within the rules under the law.
We are aware that people outside the line of rail have over the years had considerable difficulties accessing superior courts where the nature of their grievances demand that their complaints be taken up in such courts. Whilst we have had, for the longest time in our short existence as a nation state, our High Court serviced by resident judges at Livingstone, Lusaka, Kabwe, Ndola and Kitwe, we have not had, in recent times, any resident judges in other provincial capitals such as here in Solwezi of Northwestern Province, in Western Province, in Eastern Province, in Northern Province, in Muchinga Province and indeed in Luapula Province.
The reason for the absence of resident High Court judges include lack of resources, unavailability of court infrastructure and inadequate volumes of litigation at that level to justify the cost of placing resident judges.
While resources remain scarce and infrastructure continues to be a critical problem, the truth is that circumstances have significantly changed. Today, we stand witness to a simple and irreversible reality – the population has grown tremendously in these provincial locations. Apace with the increase in population has been the growth in the volume and complexity of crime and the amount of civil litigation from these provinces. Zambians wherever they may be, are expressing and asserting their personal rights, contractual and otherwise, more than has been the case thus far. Many legal issues arising from all these developments require that they be dealt with at the level of the High Court, at least. This is more so in civil cases where the jurisdictional limits of local courts and subordinate courts have largely remained insignificant over the years.
This is not to talk about the huge volume of criminal cases tried by magistrates in circumstances where sentencing ought to be referred to the High Court, or where accused persons must, as a legal imperative, be committed to the High Court for trial, or where persons choose to appeal their convictions by Subordinate Courts to the High Court.
There is also the question of the High Court judges’ supervisory role of review and revision of Subordinate Courts’ decisions. That supervisory jurisdiction no doubt, serves as a quality assurance mechanism especially for persons who are unable to launch appeals. Yet, that jurisdiction is hardly exercised when there are no resident High Court Judges in close proximity to these Subordinate Courts.
The practice has been that Judges stationed in Lusaka, Kabwe, Ndola and Kitwe have, amongst themselves, circuited to provincial centres which are without resident judges. Such circuiting does not, of course, come cheap. It comes at considerable financial, logistical and man hours’ cost to the Judiciary. For example, circuiting sessions for the High Court alone to centres that are presently without resident Judges cost the Judiciary K12,994,361.28 (Twelve Million Nine Hundred Ninety Four Thousand Three Hundred Sixty One Kwacha Twenty Eight Ngwee) in 2020 and K9,069,733.84 (Nine Million Sixty Nine Thousand Seven Hundred Thirty Three Kwacha Eighty Four Ngwee) in 2021. These are direct costs and do not include the cost of imponderables.
What is equally obvious is that it takes much longer for persons whose matters are scheduled to be heard in the High Court by circuiting judges to have those matters determined in finality because circuiting is, after all only done occasionally.
Still in my inaugural address, I intimated that I long to see improved administrative capacity and the efficient management of the Judiciary’s resources so that the institution’s concern for court users determines the way it carries out its work. It is against this background and realization that we have taken the decision to bring superior court services closer to the people. I wish to announce our launch today of the program of placement of resident Judges as follows: here at Solwezi High Court; at Mongu High Court; at Chipata High Court; at Kasama High Court and at Mansa High Court. Judges have now been deployed to take up their positions as resident judges at all these stations. We are yet to deploy resident judges at Chinsali and Mazabuka. The judges so deployed are already serving judges and so there will be no incurring of usual costs associated with recruitment.
In taking the move to place the honourable judges in the provinces, we, of course, do acknowledge that we still have serious infrastructure insufficiencies in these provincial centres and that there will be some initial hardships and inconvenience to be experienced as some of our resident judges and their staff may have to share the limited court infrastructure and facilities with their counterparts from inferior courts.
Regardless of the teething problems that may be experienced, it remains my fundamental conviction that the positioning of resident judges in all provincial centres will have tangible long-term benefits for our people in these areas. It will enhance access to justice, accelerate the disposal of criminal cases, especially, eliminate circuiting costs, and improve the supervision of Subordinate Courts by the High Court in those centres. The resources freed from circuiting will usefully be deployed in improving other court operations so as to make access to justice real.
Permit me to thank all these honourable judges who, in obedience to their calling to serve the people of Zambia wherever their services are most required, have accepted to leave their comfort zones to take up appointment in these stations. They are indeed patriots.
I have boundless confidence that in reifying the goodwill which this Government has shown thus far to address the challenges in the justice dispensation sector, it will expedite its consideration of the options available to most suitably address the issue of infrastructure deficits that so gravely afflicts the Judiciary today.
I fervently appeal to Local Government authorities, other Government and quasi government agencies and departments such as the Zambia Police Service and the social welfare department, as well as the local communities in general, here in Solwezi and in all other provincial centres in which resident judges will be positioned, to extend all the necessary support and cooperation to our resident Judges and their staff. Local government authorities here in Solwezi have set a brilliant, but not impossible example. They identified and have made available, space for the purpose of establishing the High Court in Solwezi. This is as it should be.
Therefore, while we are extending our sincere gratitude to all those who played a role in operationalizing the provincial High Court on a resident Judge basis, allow me to publicly single out for special praise, the Provincial and Civic leadership here in Solwezi, particularly his Worship the Mayor, Mr Remmy Kalepa and his team, for helping achieve this feat.
I also pay tribute to the Chairperson of the Advisory Committee on Infrastructure in the Judiciary, Hon Justice Charles Kajimanga, for his dedication and tireless effort in going round the provinces to negotiate and resolve the sometimes difficult questions of court infrastructure. I am equally grateful to the Chief Administrator, Ms. Nalishebo Imata together with her team for leaving no stone unturned in ensuring that the provincial resident judges are assisted to settle down to work as quickly as possible.
I am certain that there is amongst us here gathered a general recognition that we in the Judiciary are on a positive and sustainable path into the future. Even whilst we grapple with the continuing financial and infrastructure woes and challenges we realize that the patience of court users may have been stretched to breaking point. We are thus in a hurry to turn the tide of negativity about the Judiciary toward actions that exude optimism. This must be coupled with realistic and honest periodic assessments of progress, knowing that it can only be one step at a time.
Now, more than ever, we need to articulate how we intend to take the Judiciary as an institution forward, moving beyond the foundations that have been established. Herein resides the significance of my presence, that of the Hon Deputy Chief Justice, some senior judges from the Supreme Court responsible for critical aspects of our reform agenda, as well as the strong complement of top management staff, at this Ceremonial Opening of the High Court Sessions. Besides introducing our first provincial resident Judge in the person of Honourable Justice Derrick Mulenga, our presence here today should be viewed as a confirmation of the unwavering commitment on the part of the leadership of the Judiciary to improving access to justice, humanising service delivery and motivating our collective efforts as we grapple with the present order of challenge and opportunity.
I have not the slightest doubt in my mind that the sheer can do spirit of the Zambian people, which I have witnessed all my life, will continue to be the foundation on which we shall together build a Zambian Judiciary of our dreams.
I thank you all.