The statement by President Michael Sata that criminals in the judiciary were making the work of the acting Chief Justice Lombe Chibesakunda difficult is most disturbing and disconcerting.
The statement is disturbing and unfortunate because it casts aspersions on honorable men and women in the Judiciary who cannot defend themselves publicly.
It is particularly disturbing as it suggests that judicial officers including Judges were deliberately undermining the work of the acting Chief Justice. This of course is an understatement because the Acting Chief Justice is under pressure from the legal fraternity in general and political formation in particular.
The statement by the President will not help ease the tension in the Judiciary because a perception has been created, rightly or wrongly that the cartel is controlling the Judiciary by proxy, hence the Chikopa Tribunal and the manner in which the Development Bank of Zambia issue has been treated.
If indeed the President was quoted correctly his suggestion that Justice Chibesakunda was in place in order to watch the criminal judicial officers then this points to a very definite breach in the Judiciary and it is unfortunate that the President has taken sides in the matter, without being specific and therefore enabling the due process of law take its course to cleanse the system, if indeed there are criminal elements in the judiciary.
The system as it exists provides checks and balances through the judicial complaints Authority in which lapses, personal and institutional can be addressed. In this case if the President truly feels that criminals populate our justice system, instructions should be given to the Attorney General to begin proceedings through the JCA in order to remove the undesirable characters.
But we know for a fact that there is serious contention between the legal fraternity and the Chief Justice’s continued tenure of office which according to them is unconstitutional and therefore illegal. This is a matter which the President must deal with definitely in order to bring sanity, confidence and orderliness within the judiciary.
Casting aspersions on the judiciary, the third arm of governance will only serve to breed acrimony and disturb the very fine balance in the separation of power and will have the cumulative effect of undermining the harmony that should exist for the executive, judiciary and legislature to operate as check and balances on each other.
Already there is a problem between the legislature and judiciary over the appointment of the acting Chief Justice, a matter in which both sides have held strong views which are unlikely to be assuaged by President Sata’s statement.
The truth of the matter is that there is urgent need for directed leadership in the Judiciary, a leadership that will give guidance, vision and leadership.
It is also important for the President to realize that the acting Chief Justice is in the end a judge alike all other judges serving on the bench. Indeed she has the honor of being the first among equals namely primus inter pares but this does not make her the final arbiter in matters of law and jurisprudence.
All judges are equal in the exercise of their responsibilities as judges. That is why judges must be men and women of integrity who will exercise their functions without fear, favor or partiality.
More importantly the public must have faith in the judiciary if it is to play the critical role of being institutions of arbitration.