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Judicial officials should be above board

MAGISTRATES, like other adjudicators,have an important role to play in effective dispensation of justice in Zambia.They are, therefore, expected to always be above board, which entails being honest, open, and sincere.By being above board, we mean that magistrates should be candid and fair, without deceit or trickery as they preside over myriad criminal and civil matters in courts of law. When in court, magistrates should hear the evidence and make decisions on guilt or innocence in an impartial manner.Magistrates have powers that allow them to impose a range of sentences, including unlimited fines, bans, community orders and months’ custody, depending on the offence.The role of magistrates in the process before commencement of trial of a criminal case is pivotal in safeguarding the rights of the accused, recording confessions of the accused, and statements of witnesses.To effectively play this crucial role, magistrates listen carefully to all evidence adduced in court and follow structured decision making processes, such as sentencing guidelines in criminal cases to reach fair decisions.Therefore, when one becomes a magistrate, they have to be of good character, understanding, good in communication, and social awareness.Good magistrates need to be mature and of sound temperament, thorough judgement and commitment, and should be reliable.So, when Deputy Chief Justice Michael Musonda yesterday counselled 17 newly-appointed magistrates to execute their
duties diligently and avoid all manner of temptations attached to being a jury, he was spot on.Going by Justice Musonda’s
counsel, magistrates should always know that Zambians deserve to be served with humility because the power vested in them belongs to the people.“Your role comes with a lot of temptations. As magistrates, you wield a lot of power.“But remember that power is not yours, that power must be exercised with humility,with a sense of accountability,” he said when he swore in the magistrates. Justice Musonda is right in every aspect because we have heard in the past about some adjudicators who used their authority to make unfair decisions to favour or implicate certain parties in court cases.Some magistrates have unfairly presided over certain cases and delivered harsh judgments, contrary to the spirit of justice delivery.And when magistrates conduct themselves in such a manner, there is usually money involved from one of the parties to the court case, which is pure corruption. Corruption in the judicial system breaks the basic principle of equality before the law and deprives people of their right to a fair trial.In a corrupt judicial system,money and influence may decide which cases are prioritised or dismissed.So, just like judges,magistrates should always endeavour to resist temptations to get bribes for them to make unjust decisions in favour of the party to the case that gives them money.Corruption has a direct impact on the validity of human rights
largely because of two reasons.Firstly, corruption deprives societies of important resources that could be used for basic
needs, such as public health,education, infrastructure, or security.On another side, corruption has direct damaging consequences in general on the functioning of state institutions, and in particular on administration of justice.Corruption decreases public trust in justice and weakens the capacity of judicial systems to guarantee protection of human rights.It affects tasks and duties of judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and other legal practitioners.We, therefore, urge the 17 magistrates sworn in yesterday to take the wise counsel of Justice Musonda with the seriousness it deserve.