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Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Justice in Zambia (Prisons, Police, Legal Aid)

The Legal and Justice Sector Reform Commission set up by former Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba is still seating and continues to receive some interesting submissions. Bishop Davies Malulu (Kabwe) recently told the Commission that “there is need to abandon the dress code [of judges] inherited from colonial masters and instead come up with one reflecting the Zambian identity and character.” [Source: Lusaka Times]

The Human Rights Commission (HRC) says over 80% percent of accused persons at pre-trial stage do access bond or bail despite facing baillable or bondable offences “due to ignorance”. The situation has resulted in overcrowding of detention facilities, thereby exposing inmates to inhuman and degrading conditions against international standards. Inadequacies in the penal laws such as absence of proper guidelines in the exercise of discretion on the part of the court or police when granting bail or bond contributes to increased pre-trial cases. [Source: Daily Mail]

Prisoners in Nchelenge Prison are spending nights on their feet because of congestion at the correctional facility. This came to light at a recent Paralegal Alliance Network workshop in Mansa. Participants drawn from law enforcement agencies, civil society and the media heard that because of limited space in the cells, the prisoners spend the nights standing. A law enforcement official said that some suspects suffer swollen feet and they attend court sessions in poor health. [Source: Lusaka Times]

The Prison Service claims that the K17 million allocated in this year’s budget for the construction of prisons cells across the country will actually reduce prison congestion. The prison service in the country has a total holding capacity of 8,100 is was currently holding more than 18,560 prisoners (rate of congestion standing at 250%). The government is currently constructing small prisons in Kalabo, Monze, Luwingu, Livingstone and Mwense. [Source: Times of Zambia]

Ministry of Justice says it is determined to improve conditions of services at the Legal Aid Board for the institution to effectively discharge the functions of providing legal services to the less privileged. The Legal Aid Board recently launched its 2013-2017 strategic plan. Legal Aid Board Director Anderson Ngulube said the institution is in the process of setting up of more offices across the country to reach the most vulnerable citizens. [Source: Daily Mail]

Home Affairs Minister Davies Mwilia says Zambia Police Service needs to recruit 2,600 police officers this year. However, the ministry has no money so it is engaging the Ministry of Finance for a possible increment on budget so that more officers are recruited. So far the Ministry only has permission to recruit 500 police officers only but that number would entail 50 officers per province. The Home Affairs does not yet know how much money is required for the recruitment exercise. [Source: Lusaka Times]


The issue of colonial dressing in Courts is one that we have also noted. It is not just a matter of matter of style or comfort. These strange and funny looking robes and wigs (they look so foolish on a Zambian!) probably does more harm than good culturally. Although the attire exists for historical reasons, continuously wearing them actually reinforces a colonial mentality among Zambians. More worryingly, such attire also projects to many rural dwellers in our villages that Government is alien to them. A sort of foreign concoction forced on them. If we want Courts (and parliament) to connect with people we should ensure that the images that emanate from there also connect with people. Looking like an 18th century Tory or Whig politician is not the way to connect with a 21st century Zambian villager.

On prison congestion - the situation is totally shameful. Making progress towards providing right information to those held in pre-trial detention on baillable offences is important. However, it will not solve the general problem of prison congestion until the court process is improved. 1 in 3 prisoners are being held on remand without trial. If we can reduce on that through more efficient court processes we can reduce on remand. There are people on remand who should not be incarcerated and with proper policies ought not to be on remand if the system can be made more efficient. Unfortunately the government has focused on amnesties as a way of tackling the congestion problem. We are also simply not building enough prisons.

The problem with lack of prison, legal aid and police capacity goes back to the same funding problem. There is simply no money to do all these things because government has become bloated in the wrong places. There is a serious need for government to identify inefficiencies systematically in order to free up resources for critical areas like law and order. We have previously argued that a vital part of this approach is “crowd sourcing" of areas where government can cut waste. The public should direct this process by offering ideas as part of a broader “savings challenge” to help create fiscal space. We have repeatedly identified areas of waste and shared these publicly. Yet there has been no action to cut areas of waste, instead government has expanded beyond measure. President Lungu needs to quickly undertake a zero based review of all ministries and polices to identify what is necessary and where savings can be made.

Chola Mukanga
Copyright © Zambian Economist 2015

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