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LILLIAN Siyuni (far right) with her husband and daughters.

Director of Public Prosecutions on her job

MWAPE MWENYA, Lusaka
AT FIRST, Fulata Lillian Siyuni did not think her career will involve sometimes issuing a nolle prosequi.

Growing up, she always wanted to be a journalist. But as fate would have it, she ended up studying law and becoming the country’s top prosecutor when she was appointed as Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in 2015, the first woman to hold the position in the country’s history.
“I still feel I write more and better than I speak, but I could not pursue Mass Communication at the University of Zambia because it was a direct entry and I was not selected for that,” she says. “Instead, I was enrolled in the School of Humanities and eventually made it with a Bachelor of Laws degree.”
But it is one thing getting a law degree and quite another to be admitted to the Bar. Ask any law student or lawyer, and they will tell you how notorious the Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education (ZIALE) examinations are.
“ZIALE was not much of a struggle for me. I managed to pass because we had a good foundation at UNZA [University of Zambia], it is easy for students to put to practice the theory they learn in school,” she says.
Whilst at ZIALE, Ms Siyuni was attached to the Legal Aid Clinic for Women. There, again, it was relatively easy for her.
“It was easy for me to research and also consult people who were already working and had gone through the institution,” she says. “It is sad that the pass rate [at ZIALE] has gone down but I would urge students to study hard and concentrate on their studies. The other thing I have observed is that, during our time, we were being accommodated at the institution and food was provided at the school dining so all we needed to do was study and concentrate on school.”
With ZIALE done, Ms Siyuni started practising law in October 1996 when she joined the Ministry of Justice as a legal practitioner.
“After obtaining my practising certificate, I was appointed as State Advocate in the Attorney General’s chambers. I was also the first female Chief State Advocate during Judge Farai Muchenga`s tenure of office,” she says.
She is certainly a woman of firsts.
Those who know her are not surprised at her achievements.
Rosemary Nkonde Khuzwayo, the Chief State Advocate and her friend, says Ms Siyuni has always been intelligent and smart although less talkative.
“She is also accommodative and slow to anger, she is a professional person and does not judge people based on hearsay, tribe, and economic status,” Ms Khuzwayo says. “She is my best friend and my best boss.”
Ms Khuzwayo is not alone in praising the DPP.
Bank of Zambia legal services director Leonard Kalinde, a former classmate at UNZA, describes Ms Siyuni as a dedicated and mature lawyer who puts her work first.
“I have known Ms Siyuni since 1988; we went to UNZA together in 1992 and in November 1996, we were both admitted to the Bar. I am very proud of her appointment [as DPP] because she is equal to the task,” Dr Kalinde says.
“She has worked in various positions at the institution; she has the experience and understands her job very well. President Lungu made the best choice by appointing her.”
Some of the famous cases Ms Siyuni has handled as prosecutor include the People versus David Chitika, a former employee at Barclays Bank Zambia who was sentenced to death by hanging for strangling his wife to death.
“I am still very proud of this case because it was not easy, I had to call even witnesses who were against to the case to testify in the matter, something that we rarely do as prosecutors,” she says.
The other case involves Beatrice Mwala who was convicted of masterminding the killing of her husband’s lover.
“This case was very challenging because the court entered a nolle prosequi because it was discovered that more people needed to be arrested and jointly charged together,” she says. “So, we discontinued the case and resumed it later.”
Nolle prosequi, well, that is something she had to use recently.
Ms Siyuni says the nolle prosequi has been misunderstood by some people.
She says the State enters a nolle prosequi for various reasons and in most cases, the accused and the victim benefit from the same.
“As DPP, I handle a lot of dockets for prominent and ordinary citizens, which I prepare for court proceedings or to undergo further investigations to avoid lacunas. When people hear that the case is with the DPP, it means me and my team are studying the case to ensure that it proceeds with the courts,” she shares.
“People should also know that sometimes cases do not reach me as quickly as they wish, sometimes, I do not even see certain files because they take long to reach my desk and sometimes don’t reach my desk at all.”
She says sometimes, relatives of the accused persons even go to her office to follow up on cases which she may not even be aware of.
“The police will prepare a charge. When I receive the docket from an investigator, I’ve to see whether the police placed a correct or wrong charge, I have to see all those things and ask myself what evidence do I have to adduce for me to get to convicting the accused person and find out if there is sufficient evidence for the person to be convicted,” she says.
“We do that here before it goes to court. Even if there is corroborating evidence, this is something written on the piece of paper, we do not go and interview anyone to see whether what she stated in the docket is true or not, before it is taken to court.
“We have a retrial with the witness and sometimes we may have an accused person in custody for murder in January and the case is only coming up later in July when we meet those witnesses.
“Sometimes you find that they start contradicting the statements, at the end of the day, we may find that there is no evidence, what can you do? Sometimes witnesses change statements in court, what can you do?”
Ms Siyuni says it is important to note that the police are investigators and they are not expected to know the intricacies of the law.
“When I receive a docket, I have to check whether the police placed a correct or wrong charge. I have to see all these things to get me to convict a person even if there is corroborating evidence,” she says.
But how about the issue of political interference?
“There is no political influence as people perceive; we do not look at names and political affiliation when prosecuting, we work to serve both the accused and the victim but people do not know or understand that,” she says.
“…Sometimes, I used to become emotional and shed tears in court because of circumstances and nature of cases.”
Ms Siyuni also holds a Master’s degree in International Humanitarian and Human Rights. Former Minister of Justice Ngosa Simbyakula, who has also taught a number of lawyers in the country at UNZA and ZIALE, is her mentor.
Ms Siyuni, 44, did her grade one to five at Ndola Primary School although she was born in Kabwe. She then moved to Mumbwa Primary School and later Chamboli Secondary School in Kitwe. She completed grade 12 at Arakan Secondary School in Lusaka.
She went to different schools in various towns as her father Dickson Allan Shawa, now late, who was a banker at Barclays Bank, was frequently being transferred. Her mother Evelyn Malata Shawa, also late, was a housewife but was always supporting her in her education.
The only woman who holds a degree in a family of 10, her favourite subjects at school were Agriculture Science, English, and English Literature. In primary school, she enjoyed athletics and when she completed grade 12, she even joined a martial arts class.
Some of her former classmates are Judge Bubile Lungu, Judge Mwila Kombe, former Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) director general Maggie Mudenda and Monica Musonda, the proprietor of the famous JAVA foods.
Ms Siyuni has a few concerns regarding her profession including the low pass rate at ZIALE and the sometimes high legal fees that disadvantage the financially challenged persons in society.
“Lawyers should not only focus on defending high-profiled persons, they should get down to an ordinary citizen who may desperately need the services but does not have the capacity to afford legal charges,” she says.
Ms Siyuni is married to Kwibisa Clement Siyuni, an internal auditor at Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA). They have four daughters; Musalwa, 18, Nokwanda, 15, Pumulo, nine, and Evelyn, three.
Away from office work, she enjoys reading books about Adolf Hitler and novels by the all-time fiction best seller Agatha Christine, as well as watching crime investigations movies.
“I enjoy solitude because I enjoy meditating. I rarely shop, so if I am not at work I would rather be at home cooking for my children,” she says.