By Peter Sinkamba
Provided the petition by UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema which is before Lusaka High Court Judge Mwila Chitabo where he wants the court to determine whether his rights to be heard in the Presidential petition were violated is not summarily resolved, there cannot be any meaningful dialogue between PF and UPND leadership. To ensure speedy resolution of political tension in the country, we hold a strong view that Judge Chitabo should have simply recuses himself from handling this matter instead of shifting blame on to the lawyers. In the interest of State security and economy, as well as respect for Bangalore Principles on the Conduct of Judges, it is imperative that Judge Chitabo recused himself.
According to Bangalore Principles, a judge should disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to instances in which the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding. From the reaction of judge Chitabo when he decided to adjourn the matter indefinitely in December, 2016, his temperament was brought into question. On that account alone, he should have freely and willingly recused himself from handling the petition.
Bangalore Principles state that an appearance of impropriety occurs when reasonable minds, with knowledge of all the relevant circumstances disclosed by a reasonable inquiry, would conclude that the judge’s honesty, integrity, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge is impaired. A judge should be patient, dignified, respectful, and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity. Indefinite adjournment of the petition brought to question the Judge’s temperament, and for that reason alone, Hichilema has a point.
Further, since President Edgar Lungu has on several occasions stated he will not interfere with the judicial processes to guarantee judicial independence as provided for in the Constitution, we hold the view that even if Hichilema’s treason case is granted a speedy trial to ease the current political tensions which have serious deepened and undeniably divided the nation, there cannot be any meaningful dialogue to diffuse the political tensions whilst High Court petition is pending.
Yesterday, Judge Chitabo blasted UPND lawyers for what he termed as “mischaracterizing” his decision not to recuse himself from handling a matter in which Hichilema wants the court to determine whether his rights to be heard in the Presidential petition were violated. The Judge stayed the proceedings pending the determination of the appeal on recusal in by the Supreme Court. Failure to resolve the political tensions is not good for country politically, economically as well as in terms of State security. Therefore, the adamancy by the Judge is uncalled for.