Anti-corruption Activist Gregory Chifire
Anti-corruption Activist Gregory Chifire

By Peter Sinkamba

GREGORY CIFIRE IMPRISONMENT: FROM THE LENS OF THE GREEN PARTY

Following the sentencing of Anti-Corruption and human rights activist Gregory Cifire to six years simple imprisonment by the Supreme Court last week on Friday last week, I have received calls from various media houses seeking my comment on the judgment and sentence, which many consider is too harsh.
Before I comment on the Cifire judgment per se, let me start with a general commentary on the issue of civil liability of judges of superior courts?? that is to say the High Court; Court of Appeal; Supreme Court; and Constitutional Court.

A judge of one of the superior courts is absolutely exempt from all civil liability for acts done by him in the execution of his judicial functions. His exemption from civil liability is absolute, extending not merely to errors of law and fact, but also to malicious, corrupt, or oppressive exercise of his judicial powers. For it is generally considered that it is better that occasional injustice should be done, and remain unaddressed under the cover of this immunity than compromise or weaken the independence of the judicature. It is argued that administration of justice could be weakened by liability of judges to unfounded and vexatious charges of error, malice, corruption or incompetence brought against them by disappointed litigants.

Notwithstanding the said immunity, there is remedy for judicial errors which is some form of appeal a higher court. The remedy for corruption is a criminal prosecution. The remedy for judicial oppression or incompetence is removal of the offending judge through the Judicial Complaints Commission (JCC). The Constitution of Zambia Amendment 2016 has outlined in Articles 143, 144 and 236 the procedure for removal of an offending judge.

As the Green Party, we encourage aggrieved members of the public to rely on the two avenues?? appeals to higher courts, and JCC?? to express their grievances rather than use any other avenues to disparage courts and the justice system. This is justifiable merely on grounds of public policy but also as a deduction from the principle that a superior court always has power to determine the limits of its jurisdiction: it follows that an erroneous conclusion as to the ambit of its jurisdiction is merely an abuse of its jurisdiction and not an act out of its jurisdiction.

Coming to the case of Cifire, let me start with the six year imprisonment term. First of all, as stated above, it goes without saying that the Supreme Court possesses inherent power to imprison a person for a period of six years. In fact, the Court has power to sentence a person to even more years, including death sentence. So, with respect to sentence handed down to Cifire, we do not think that the Court is out of its jurisdiction.

The next question is whether the Court’s decision is an abuse of the Court’s jurisdiction. From inherent power point of view, we do not think that the sentencing is an abuse of the Court jurisdiction considering that a superior court has power to determine limits of its jurisdiction and independently hand down decisions. The only available remedy for seemingly abuse of court’s jurisdiction is a Presidential Pardon.That is the only available remedy which Cifire could seek, and nothing more.

Coming to public policy point of view, we believe that the Court’s six year sentence is contentious. Zambian prisons, with the official prison capacity of 6,100 bed spaces, are among the most congested and unhygienic in the world. Latest statistics show that Zambia has a total population of about 20, 000 prisoners representing more than 300 per cent (300%) overcrowding in all the country’s prisons. In some instances ten inmates share bed-space meant for one. This congestion not only results in overcrowding, but also creates problems of hygiene, sanitation, and general poor living conditions. The current prison system does not meet the basic needs of victims. In fact, it is a struggle to remain physically and mentally healthy in Zambian prisons where over 4,000 or 22% of the prison population live with HIV.

Further, the rate of recidivism is very high in Zambian prisons, showing a strong correlation between imprisonment and re-offending rates. Put simply, recidivism rates show that prison sentencing is not a deterrent as more often than not, offenders end up re-offending and sent back to prison.

Furthermore, from public policy view-point, we believe that Cifire’s sentencing makes a good case for urgent review of the sentencing system in Zambia. As the Green Party, we believe that greater focus of the justice system should be on mediation, restorative justice, solutions based-approaches, and community- based justice. We believe that there is need to create an improved approach to delivery of justice which enhances wider social justice in the country and is respected internationally.

In particular, the Green Party believes that there is need to reduce dependence on prisons and instead make greater use of alternatives as research shows that community-based sentences have a significant effect on lowering re-imprisonment and re-conviction rates compared to prison sentences.

In this regard, the Green Party advocates for a justice system which:

  1. has an increased range of options available to magistrates and judges in criminal court cases beside prison;
  2. invests in the provision for rehabilitation of offenders, focusing on selfrecognition and acceptance of responsibility, guilt and remorse, counseling, education, conflict  resolution, and anger management therapy so as to prevent repeat offending;
  3. supports teaching of non-violent means of expression;
  4. integrates international measures in its system to prevent abuses of human rights and standards, of which virtues are central to efforts of creating of a more peaceful and just world;
  5. strengthens enforcement mechanisms of National Values and Principles as espoused in Article 8, particularly as relates to constitutionalism vis-à-vis Articles 1, 2, and 5, as read with Articles 118 and 122; and
  6. has a harmonized civil and criminal procedure for the two apex courts? Supreme and Constitutional Courts. The procedural incongruence noted in recent contempt proceedings independently before the two apex courts whereby the Supreme Court has contempt procedure whilst the Constitutional Court lacks one, is a serious worrisome public policy matter. Either both apex courts should have a unified contempt procedure, or both be deprived of it.

The Author is the President of Green Party of Zambia

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25 COMMENTS

  1. Wise Sinkamba. Fair comments. Sinkamba has technically and wisely admitted Cifire was wrong. He has not supported the judges or Cifire. This is the way a president must be. Not cimbwi Hala Hala. He is a f00l1sh president.

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    • Mr Sinkamba is here beating about the bush and afraid to condemn the seemingly ridiculous 6 year sentence lest he is cited for contempt. Who says a judge should not be condemned/criticised if corrupt/wrong, such kind of thinking as is a recipe for disaster.

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    • What is WRONG?
      I think when we exclaim 6 years on Chifire just for ukutumpa kwakwe, we are considering that Zambia is Christian Nation. And maximum punishment is becoming like maximum pricing of commodities.
      Community punishment is no longer considered.
      A boy force himself on a goat, you smash him with 15 years in jail. Why can’t he be punished by cleaning a hospital for 1 year?
      Someone refuse to stop his convoy of cars for president to pass, you give him treason. And how long he stayed in prison? He came out looking like a destitute.
      Chifire could have been sentenced to be cleaning court rooms or streets for 1 year. And that is humiliating enough.
      6 years in Zambian jails he will die.
      Even Sinkamba is now scared!!
      CHRISTIAN NATION.

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    • This is why I left PF to join the Green Party. These are exactly the same views I have on what we need to reform the seriously flawed justice system in Zambia, meanwhile we have a Law Association of Zambia that remain silent on this, maybe because the more terrible our prisons the more money defendants facing criminal charges will spend on lawyers to stay out of these death camps. Shame on Given Lubinda who after so much talk has done nothing to improve our repressive Justice system and to allow for Community Service as opposed to Custodial Sentences often with hard labour for even petty offences, shame on the Prisons Service for not improving Prison conditions despite always boasting of bumper harvests by using Prison Slave Labour. Shame on the UN and other NGOs for not putting each…

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    • Ctn…Shame on the UN and other NGOs for not putting each successive Zambian govt to task on improving both the Justice system and the Prison conditions as well as decongesting them. Even HH who was recently in prison has forgotten about those conditions and doesn’t even care to lobby the govt to work on these issues I’ve mentioned this only shows the calibre of HH and his equally selfish egotistical MPs. Do these people not know that goes around comes around? KK never imagined he would one day spend several weeks at Kamwala remand yet it happened, no body knows what tommorow will bring so respect today.

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    • @Nostradumbass well said mudala well said, we need to ask our selves is this the kind of system we want for our children? Just imagine it is your friend, fellow readers just imagine it is your loved one or even yourself in these prisons over a simple offence. Let us be serious with life this is not how a so called Christian nation should act by condemning people over minor offences to death camps. Those that commit serious offences and are such as murder, rape, aggravated theft etc and are proven guilty do deserve custodial sentences not someone who is believed to have insulted the Chief Justice by expressing his opinion. This stiff sentence on Cifire is surely against Gods will.

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    • What a long and winding statement just on a contempt case. The green party seems to be very scared of angering the fierce judiciary who have 666 written on their Supreme Court. Ba Sinkamba a spade is not a large spoon

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    • Y’ALL GOTTA BE MANAGED; GET GOVERNED.
      It is even wiser to be allowed to be governed.
      No one is above the law. The law that we set up ourselves. Chifire is as loud mouth as CK and many others. It doesn’t make you any smarter to start whining and drum beating when you’re found at the wrong side of the law. We keep earing Chifire’s kind’a behavior in CK over and over again.
      ONCE AGAIN – GREAT PIECE PETER

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    • Mr Sinkamba, though he makes many good points, apparently avoids calling out the dictatorial totalitarianism increasingly growing in the country. Mr Cifire was sentenced to 6 years in prison for “contempt of court”—for the words he used while criticizing the judicial system in Zambia. Under international law, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR ) , a country which defines itself as a democracy is expected to subscribe to human rights observance. Freedom of speech is a human right. Citizens of a democratic country should be free to speak their minds and express their opinions without fear of being imprisoned. No one branch of government should be above criticism. As long as all the branches of…

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    • … government are paid by tax payer money, the taxpayers should then have a say in how these branches do their jobs. Secondly, there’s what’s called equality before the law. The law should be applied equally, regardless of one’s social status, or standing in society. But that’s not what has happened with regard to this case. For instance, a few months ago, a Zambian judge clearly ordered that Tendai Biti be not deported back to Zimbabwe before further hearing of his case. Lungu and his friends ignored the judge’s order and deported Biti anyway—a thing that can never happen in a democratic country with strong institutions. That was a clear contempt of court and, under normal circumstances, somebody should have been held accountable for it. The second incident was when the…

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    • … ConCourt ordered that Lungu’s ministers pay back the money they illegally received, when they remained in office after the dissolution of parliament. That was back in 2016. Lungu’s ministers ignored the court order and have not paid the money up to now. That’s another clear contempt of court case. So why haven’t they sent these ministers to prison for contempt of court? Or are some people above the law in Zambia? And yet they quickly send someone to prison for merely expressing his opinion? Where is justice there?

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    • SINKAMBA say CEFIRE deserves it. In fact he is luck he only got 6 years. He should have been given 12 years.

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  2. Only in Zambia where judges are party cadres and mini gods.That will come to an end in 2021.
    Corruption and money laundering offenses attract jail sentences longer than 6 years. So they brace themselves.

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  3. Thoughtful analysis by the Greens.

    One outstanding phenomenon is solution-oriented approach by the Greens, always. Keep it up.

    By far, this is better analysis than LAZ position.

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  4. #3 Independent, yes indeed what will change in 2021? If you are suggesting anything to do with trib.al Hacks, you are definitely a chimbwi iwe makaka.

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  5. If these foolish parties when they are also in the opposition start praising such unjust and unfair ruling who is going to defend the powerless and defenseless citizens. Those judges don’t own us and we pay for their salaries so we have the right to criticize them it’s not as if the guy beat or threatened those useless judges who are busy enriching themselves. They’re lucky Zambians don’t own guns else where people will go beyond just criticizing to actually killing you too.

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  6. Some of these parties supporting such actions which might also impact them. What happens if this Green Party dude says something that will annoy those greedy judges so he too should be given 6 years. Who supports such extreme sentencing and then once these guys are out of power these people will be singing songs about how oppressive Lungu’s appointees were when they were also supporting and enabling them in their evil schemes

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  7. Excited individuals like Chifire don’t chose which waters they are wading. They only listen to the cheers egging them own without checking the depth of the water they’re entering.

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