Appeals clog Judiciary

Too many appeals in courts of law have clogged the judiciary and now measures have been introduced to ameliorate the situation.

In a circular to all lawyers dated 5th February 2014, the acting deputy chief justice Marvin Mwanamwambwa said this was so because the majority of losing litigants were unwilling to accept Judgments of the Trial Courts (High Court and Industrial Relations Court).

Justice Mwanamwambwa stated that as the law stood now, appealing against a trial judgment was a legal right but that this right should be exercised reasonably and that there were a number of cases where it had not been exercised properly.

“We will start with the Industrial Relations Court.  Section 97 of the Labour and Industrial Relations Act provides that an appeal against a decision of the Industrial Relations Court should be on a “point of law or point of mixed law and fact.”  Litigants are aware of this Section.  But a big number of them have disregarded it.  We have dealt with several cases where a losing litigant would appeal against plain findings of fact, in a well reasoned judgment of the Industrial Relations Court.

“We now move on to the High Court.  A number of Supreme Court cases have decided that an appellate Court will not ordinarily reverse findings of fact by a trial Court.  Two of such cases are Kapembwa v Maimbolwa and Attorney General (1981) Z.R. 127 and Attorney General v Achiume (1983) Z.R. 1.  Litigants are aware of this principle.  But a number of them have disregarded it.  We have repeatedly seen several cases, where a losing litigant would appeal against plain findings of fact, in a balanced and well reasoned judgment of the High Court,” he said.

He further said in the High Court, there were cases of pure loans on the Commercial list in that a debtor would default, in breach of the terms of the loan and Judgment would be entered against him.

He said such a debtor would appeal to the Supreme Court asking for leave to settle the judgment debt by instalments, the very thing he failed to do before being sued and that such an appeal was an attempt to restore the loan.

The acting deputy chief justice also observed that there were motions in relation to Supreme Court judgments because some litigants were unwilling to accept judgments of the Supreme Court which were supposed to be final.

He said Rule 78 of the Zambian Supreme Court Rules, deals with clerical errors, accidental slips or omissions with limited scope which litigants are aware of that.

“A number of litigants have tried to extend its scope, by motions, attempting to induce the Supreme Court to review its judgments, with a view to changing the verdict in their favour.  We know of a litigant who has motioned four (4) times over one and the same, judgment, trying to have it changed in his favour,” justice Mwanamwambwa said.

The circular further said that in 2012 and 2013, the backlog was aggravated by appeals in Election Petitions which the court gave priority to given their Constitutional nature.

This entailed shelving ordinary civil appeals and that they were still hearing Election Petition-Appeals up to now.

He said their records showed that the number of civil appeals had increased since 2011 were they had 156 civil appeals, 225 in 2012and 242 in 2013. These figures however did not include motions and that if this continued they shall continue to have a backlog of civil appeals.

Meanwhile the judiciary has advise that with effect from 1st April 2014civil appeals would be listed for hearing in Kabwe without the consent of the parties and that priority would be given to Commercial Courts.

In this regard the standing panel of the Supreme Court would be tasked to hear appeals from the Commercial Courts. He explained that the idea was to expedite disposal of such appeals given their fast track origin at trial.

Justice Mwanamwamba said the acting chief justice Lombe Chibesakunda made the decision in order to address the backlog of pending civil appeals and that she had increased the number of civil sessions for Lusaka.

He advised litigants that had complained and intend to complain, over cause-listing of their civil appeals to take note of the cause of the backlog and measures taken to address them and that they were up to date with criminal appeals.