The news from the Constitutional Court that it has halted the infamous “Eligibility Case” is an extremely saddening and sickening tragedy. While we respect and uphold the spirit of Article 122 which provides for judicial independence and insulates the judiciary from any external control, we however still believe that suggestions by outsiders could nonetheless be floated to the judiciary for consideration, for the sake winning back public confidence in our superior courts.
A judiciary that loses public confidence is a more dangerous to national security than is the case with executive and legislature.
As the Green Party, we think that it is not yet too late to reform and win back the public confidence. For this reason, it is imperative that any issues that tend to undermine the dignity of the judiciary are sorted out quickly by all of us, much as we respect and uphold Article 122.
Our considered view is that the tragedy of the judiciary, particularly as regard to superior courts is the case management system. Whilst the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal have made impressive strides in case management, there is a very serious problem in the High Court and Constitutional Court.
Much as the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal have made impressive strides in this regard, nonetheless, we still believe more could be done to improve the situation.
The traditional case management system where in essence it is the litigants that control the time, and thereby make cases run forever without finality seriously needs to be dispensed with because it is number one reason for the erosion of public confidence in judiciary.
We suggest that our judiciary takes a leaf and emulates the case management strategy adopted by the Supreme Court of Kenya in the last Presidential election.
Whilst fourteen days appears to be a nightmare here in Zambia, the Supreme Court of Kenya fully complied with the fourteen days prescribed by the Constitution within which to hear and determine a petition.
Like is the case in Zambia, the Kenyan Constitution has set seven days within which any party can challenge the presidential outcome. In Kenya, the Supreme Court registry remained open up until midnight of the seventh day for any party to file a case.
Once the cases were filed, the parties were given by the Court only two days to serve the respondents. The Court ordered that service of the court documents could be done directly or through a newspaper advertisement. The respondents were required to file their replies within four days of being served, and the applicants then had four days to put in additional material to the petition.
A pre-trial conference was held after eight days and the hearing started immediately after the conference. The Court prescribed the number of pages to be submitted and apportioned four days to hear and determine the dispute.
Exactly on the fourteen day, the Court handed down an abridged version of judgment and the full version was ready and distributed twenty one days later thereby fully complying with the prescribed timeframe.
No petitioner cried foul on the timing and court directions.
We suggest that the Constitutional Court and other superior courts should consider adopting the Supreme Court of Kenya case management strategy to avoid the chaos and agony currently existing.
The current system is so frustrating, disgusting and nauseating. It has considerably contributed to litigant’s anguish and frustration thereby leading to growing loss of confidence in the judiciary. It has also contributed to the bombardment of the superior courts, especially the High Court and Constitutional Court, with the Judicial Complaints Commission complaints. This development does not auger well for our justice system.