Editor's Comment

This is justice

JUSTICE is a fundamental human right which entails that any accused person be subjected to a court process that guarantees a speedy and fair outcome, for justice delayed is justice denied.
Most contemporary theories validate the overwhelming importance of justice. John Rawls, for instance, states that “justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought”.
While justice is an important aspect of safeguarding human rights, its delivery has not been without challenges in Zambia like many other developing countries.
It is not a secret that in Zambia, timely disposal of cases and access to legal aid has been one of the major challenges.
It is on record that many cases have taken years to be disposed of due to inadequate legal manpower among other factors.
Recognising the challenges in administering justice, President Edgar Lungu, in addressing a gathering of learned men and women, once said, “We owe the Zambian people a justice system that is accessible and impartial to all litigants irrespective of their standing in society, a system that is efficient and delivers results within a reasonable time, a system that is user-friendly and ensures that its users understand it and, more importantly, a justice system that responds to the needs of its litigants and is efficient and effective.”
The head of State was spot-on. The backlog of cases and judgements has for a long time haunted Zambia’s judiciary like many others across the globe.
Many people have been denied justice on account of delay. Innocent people have been confined to the remand facilities for years without being heard. Similarly, some people have in the process of waiting for justice died without being accorded a hearing.
Needless to say, apart from congesting remand facilities, delayed justice negates the tenets of democracy and abrogates human rights.
It is, however, heartening to hear that the backlog of cases in various High Courts across the country has reduced from about 4,600 last year to less than 500 this year.
“We have dismantled case backlog in Lusaka, Ndola, Kitwe, Livingstone and Kasama. With a backlog of 4,676, over 4,260 cases were disposed of. The number of cases pending is 416,” High Court Judge-in-charge of Lusaka, Eastern and Western region Getrude Chawatama said.
Judge Chawatama said the reduction is attributed to Chief Justice Irene Mambilima’s decision to constitute a taskforce on backlog of cases in 2018.
The taskforce comprises six judges and support staff assigned to ensure that case backlog in the High Court is systematically dismantled within the shortest possible time.
To dismantle the accumulated cases, the taskforce devised several interventions such as increasing criminal sessions from 12 to 18.
This is not only commendable but a progressive step towards a just society. We applaud the learned men and women for running with President Lungu’s vision of enhanced access to justice through a user-friendly, efficient and effective judicial system.
It is good that at last the ghost of case backlog that has haunted us for decades is now being exorcised.
It is our hope that the momentum that has been built so far in disposing of cases, will be maintained to safeguard against slipping back into a backlog.
It is also hoped that the concern of exorbitant legal fees will be addressed with the same vigour and speed to accord more people access to justice.
There is a perception, perhaps justified, that justice is a preserve of the rich due the exorbitant legal fees. Many poor people have ended up in prisons not because they were truly guilty, but simply because they lacked proper legal representation to argue their cases convincingly.
We are however hopeful that with the determination shown by the learned men and women to improve the justice system, exorbitant legal fees will also be addressed in due course.
If the fees are kept high, the well paid learned men and women should increase pro bono services and they should be judged by the rate of success not just by the number of cases they take up.
This will certainly enhance access to justice for all.

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