UPND Leader Hakainde Hichilema has written to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Chief Justice, the Director of Public Prosecution, the Human Rights Commission and the Legal Aid Board proposing measures to be taken to decongest Correctional facilities and Police Cells in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak in Zambia.
Mr Hichilema says congested Correctional Facilities and Police Cells are a drain for Communicable diseases even without the present COVID-19 threat the country is faced with.
He said aside from the direct risk to the lives of thousands of inmates held in correctional facilities and police cells the COVID-19 virus presents due to overcrowding, there is a secondary risk to others who interact with them.
Mr Hichilema has proposed the formation of an adhoc national case record review working group, the consequent categorization in the shortest time frame not exceeding 48 hours after the formation of the working group and the need for an analysis to be undertaken by the working group to secure release of inmates based on circumstances.
In a letter dated 24th March 2020 obtained by Hot FM News, Mr Hichilema expressed hope that with joint concerted efforts, the foregoing measures can be given due consideration and acted upon as a matter of urgency without compromising the security of the state in any way.
Below is HH’s full letter
Your Ladyship, Sirs and Madams,
REF: DECONGESTION OF ZAMBIAN PRISONS IN THE WAKE OF THE
COVID 19 PANDEMIC
1. I greet you all as partners in the furtherance of national interest.
2. I am writing to you all in your distinguished capacities as heads of arms of Government and key institutions that govern the well being of inmates in our various correctional facilities and police cells across the Country.
3. The purpose of my writing is to offer our proposals as to how to save the lives of our citizens in view of the threat posed by the Covid 19 pandemic and in view of our heavily congested correctional facilities and police cells which are a cesspool for communicable diseases, even without the present Covid 19 threat the country is faced with.
4. Aside from the direct risk to the lives of the thousands at inmates held in the above mentioned facilities that the Covid 19 virus presents due to over crowding, there is a secondary risk to others who interact with them, including but not limited to prison authorities, judiciary staff, members of the legal fraternity and numerous others that I need not itemise here, who in turn interact with their families and the general public at large.
Our facilities thus have the potential to become deadly breeding grounds for the spread of this infection.
5. The need to decongest our correctional facilities cannot therefore be over emphasised and this letter is aimed at providing possible ways of achieving that from our perspective as drawn from discussions we have had with various stakeholders.
6. We thus propose the following:
(a) The formation, as a matter of urgency, of an ad hoc National Case
Record Review Working Group (“the Working Group”) comprising
volunteer legal practitioners, law students, paralegals, police officers,
prisons officers and legal service organisations such as Justice Forum Zambia Limited, Caritas Zambia Limited and others under the supervision of the National Prosecutions Authority and the Legal Aid Board to review all case records, dockets and goal delivery returns so as to ascertain the status of all inmates held in our facilities and the stage of prosecution of all pending matters beginning with the most congested facilities.
In doing this, the Working Group shall also have
regard to the risk level of each facility given its geographic location.
(b) The consequent categorisation in the shortest possible time frame (not exceeding 48 hours after the formation of the Working Group) of
inmates into the following categories at a minimum:
(i) Inmates in police cells for prolonged periods without arraignment before Court;
(ii) Remandees whose trials are yet to commence;
(iii) Remandees whose trials are yet to be concluded;
(iv) Remandees awaiting Judgement;
(v) Prohibited Immigrants;
(vi) Convicts amenable for early release;
(vii) Inmates amenable for transfer to open air facilities; and
(viii) Juvenile, elderly and terminally ill inmates.
(c) It is further proposed that following categorisation, further analysis be undertaken by the Working Group to secure release of inmates based on the circumstances of each case as follows:
(i) In cases where inmates are facing minor charges or have scant evidence against them, but are held in police cells, that these be released on police bond or unconditionally as a matter of urgency and as the case maybe.
(ii) In cases where trials are yet to commence owing to challenges
with putting forward evidence, remandees may be discharged
upon withdrawal of the cases against them pursuant to Section
88 of the Criminal Procedure Code, Chapter 88 of the Laws of Zambia (“the CPC”);
(iii) Where trials have stalled for any other reason and the cases are not of a serious nature in the opinion of the DDP`s Office, Nolle
Prosequi may be entered or cases discharged as appropriate pursuant to the provisions of Sections 81, 82 and 88 above mentioned of the CPC;
(iv) In deserving cases where there are bailable offences, bail may be
granted on lenient term or where there are unfulfilled bail conditions these may be reviewed;
(v) All Judges and magistrates presiding over both criminal and civil matters be directed to temporarily halt all civil proceedings until
further notice save in very exceptional circumstances so as to
give priority to criminal proceedings;
(vi) All Judges and Magistrates with pending final Judgements or
with pending Rulings on no case to answer be directed to
expedite delivery of such Judgements and Rulings;
(vii) All Judges and Magistrates be encouraged to give non-custodial
sentences in accordance with law in deserving cases;
(viii) All convicts amenable for early release be released expeditiously;
(ix) All inmates amenable for transfer to open air facilities be so
(x) Juvenile, elderly and terminally ill inmates be given special consideration for speedy trial, early release or transfer given their fragility and susceptibility to the Covid 19 disease.
It is our hope that with our joint and concerted effort, the foregoing
measures can be given due consideration and acted upon as a matter of urgency without compromising the security of the state in any way.
An additional and overriding requirement in the implementation of the proposed measures outlined above would be to ensure continuous screening of all inmates for Covid 19 both prior to and upon release.
It is our sincere belief that working together with all stake holders including the Civil Society Organisations named above and all other concerned CSO`s
copied here, we can achieve a proactive rather than reactive response to the
Covid 19 threat as outlined above so as to save countless Zambian lives.
I remain yours in service,