Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Travesty of Justice


By Isaac Mwanza

JUSTICE, as an ideal, is one of the cornerstones of any civilized society. It encompasses the fair and equitable treatment of individuals within the legal system, aiming to protect the rights and liberties of all citizens.However, in both historical and contemporary contexts, there have been instances where justice has been distorted, resulting in what can only be described as a travesty or miscarriage of justice.

A travesty of justice is a grave departure from the principles of fairness, equity, and due process within the legal system while miscarriages of justice, defined as wrongful convictions or failures in the legal system leading to unjust outcomes, are not unique to any particular country or legal framework.

A travesty of justice happens when the very institutions and processes designed to ensure justice become tools of injustice. This can take various forms, including wrongful convictions, corruption,discrimination, or abuses of power by those in positions of authority.

In Zambia and other countries, we have witnessed cases that exemplify this situation, and there is a growing trend of the state compensating those who have been wrongly detained or maliciously prosecuted.

In Zambia, the case of Hakainde Hichilema and five others serves as an example of potential miscarriages of justice within a political context.

In 2017, Hichilema and his co-accused were arrested and charged with treason after an altercation with the previous government. Many believed that these charges were politically motivated. Although President Hichilema was eventually released, concerns arose about the fairness of the Zambian legal system in dealing with political opponents.

The state has agreed to compensate K6,400,000.00 to each of the five individuals who were arrested and prosecuted alongside President Hichilema.

Another case illustrating a travesty of justice is that of Richard Sakala, who served as President Frederick Chiluba’s aide for press and public relations. In 2002, he was unfairly and unlawfully prosecuted on charges of abusing his office. Notably, these charges were brought by private prosecutors without the required constitutional authority of the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is responsible for overseeing all prosecutions in the country.

The circumstances surrounding the unjust prosecution were influenced by the direct involvement of then-Republican President Dr. Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, who reinstated Mutembo Nchito, a prosecutor who had been removed by the then Director of Public Prosecutions, Mukelabai Mukelabai.

DPP Mukelabai had raised concerns with a tribunal established under the now-repealed Article 58(3)(a) of the Republican Constitution, asserting that the President had exceeded his authority by reinstating Mutembo Nchito to prosecute Sakala.
The tribunal found that President Mwanawasa had indeed exceeded his authority.Miscarriages of justice are not unique to any particular country. They also occur in foreign jurisdictions, as exemplified by the Central Park Five case in the United States.

In 1989, five teenagers – Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise – were wrongfully convicted of raping a jogger in Central Park, New York City. They were coerced into making false confessions, even though there was no physical evidence connecting them to the crime.

In 2002, after spending 6 to 13 years in prison, the actual perpetrator confessed, and DNA evidence proved their innocence. This case highlights the risks of false confessions and hasty judgments.

In Africa, the 1988 Kenyan Murder of Julie Ward is another illustration. Julie Ward, a British tourist, was found dead in Kenya’s Maasai Mara Game Reserve.

A Kenyan man, Simon ole Makallah, was convicted of her murder despite insufficient evidence.Subsequent investigations suggested that wild animals might have been responsible for her death,raising doubts about Makallah’s conviction.He was released in 2009 after serving several years in prison, underscoring the dangers of rushed decisions and inadequate investigations.

South of our borders in South Africa, the 2001 George Moyo Case also exposes flaws in the South African justice system, including reliance on unreliable witness testimony.George Moyo was wrongly convicted of a murder in Johannesburg, South Africa, and spent over eight years in prison.His conviction was eventually overturned due to newly discovered evidence and the retraction of a key witness.

Several factors contribute to a travesty of justice, including flawed legal procedures, inadequate legal representation, political interference, and corruption, as well as racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic biases.A common reason for travesty or miscarriages of justice is the absence of proper legal representation, especially for marginalized and economically disadvantaged individuals.When people lack access to skilled and dedicated legal counsel, they are more likely to be treated
unfairly within the legal system.

Interference by politicians in legal matters can weaken the independence of the judiciary, resulting in decisions that favour those in positions of power.Corruption within the legal system can also erode public trust and lead to wrongful convictions.
Discrimination based on factors like political affiliation, race, ethnicity, or economic status can result in unjust outcomes in the legal system.

This may manifest as racial profiling, unequal access to resources, and systemic biases that lead to individuals receiving unfair treatment under the law.Outdated or flawed legal procedures and investigative methods can, in some cases, lead to wrongful convictions.These flaws can include cases of mistaken identity, false confessions, and unreliable evidence, all of
which contribute to miscarriages of justice.The consequences of a travesty of justice are extensive and profound, impacting not only the individuals directly affected but society as a whole.Wrongful convictions can result in the imprisonment of innocent individuals, causing them and their families immense suffering, including physical, emotional, and psychological trauma, and potentially irreparable damage to their lives.

When the public loses faith in the legal system’s capacity to deliver justice, it diminishes trust in institutions and makes it challenging to maintain social order and stability.For example, recent developments at Zambia’s Constitutional Court, which is the highest court for constitutional matters, are causing concern.

Many members of the public may soon lose confidence in that Court due to perceived partiality and a lack of comprehensive constitutional analysis in its judgments.A single travesty of justice can perpetuate a cycle of injustice, as it may lead to further mistrust and disenfranchisement, causing individuals to lose hope in the legal system.The financial costs of a travesty of justice are substantial. Taxpayers may bear the burden of compensating the wrongfully convicted, and the legal system may need to allocate resources to rectify its mistakes.

Addressing and rectifying a travesty of justice is essential for a just and equitable society. In order to prevent and correct such miscarriages, there is need for legal reforms of our justice system and increasing transparency and accountability.
Implementing legal reforms that address systemic issues, such as biased sentencing, discriminatory policing, or wrongful convictions, can help prevent future travesties of justice.

On the other hand, promoting transparency and accountability within the legal system, and ensuring an independent judiciary, can help prevent political interference and corruption.Over the years, calls from the public and the international community have always focused on the need for the executive arm of government to be accountable and rarely has it been recognized that a
judiciary that is not accountable in its decisions is more dangerous.

There is also need to establish support systems for wrongfully convicted individuals, including
access to legal assistance and rehabilitation programs. This is crucial for their reintegration into
There is also need to encourage public awareness and advocacy for reform of the justice system.Grassroots movements and public pressure can drive change within the legal system.A travesty of justice represents a failure of the legal system to uphold its core principles of fairness,equity, and due process. The causes are multifaceted, and the consequences are profound, affecting
both individuals and society as a whole.

Addressing and rectifying these miscarriages is not only a moral imperative but also crucial for the maintenance of a just and equitable society.

By reforming the legal system, ensuring accountability, and promoting public awareness, we can take significant steps toward preventing and rectifying these travesties, ultimately moving closer to a more just and fairer world.The cases from the USA, Kenya, South Africa, and Zambia demonstrate the global nature of miscarriages of justice.

These cases underscore the need and importance of a fair and impartial legal system, thorough investigations, and the need to protect the rights of the accused.

In each case, individuals suffered wrongful detentions or convictions, often due to a combination of factors, including coerced confessions, unreliable witnesses or political pressures. These cases should serve as powerful reminders of the importance of constant vigilance in upholding justice and protecting the rights of all individuals within a legal system.

[For any contributions or questions, write to [email protected]]


  1. In Zambia, the poor suffer the most at the hands of our institutions, including the Judiciary, which are supposed to be protectors of justice

    • There shouldn’t be any Zambian prisoner, Zambia has never been at war. Unfortunately Zambian prisons are FULL more than DRCongo, why? Because of ..

    • Isaac Mwanza should not overstretch what he knows. Richard Sakala was convicted on the strength of the evidence adduced against him. He also had legal defence. He actually appealed his conviction but abandoned it of his own free will.

  2. The discharge of the treason accused in the HH case through a Nolle Prosequi was also a travesty of legal process in which the state attempted to escape responsibilty to compensate those who were physically and mentally abused.They should have been aquited.A nolle is a discontinuation of a case by the prosecutor which can be reopened at any time There was never any possibility of the state ever reopening the case because the detained persons where never any where near the crime scene as it simply never existed.Tresaon carried a mandatory death sentence on conviction and one can only imagine the mental anguish and physical pain inflicted both the victims and their relatives by that repugnant charge. I would have gone for not less than twenty million Kwacha

  3. JUSTICE, as an ideal, is one of the cornerstones of any civilized society. How do we identify a civilised society? Unfortunately we tend to think a civilised society is one that carbon copies a European society. Yet civilisations are everywhere on this planet.
    This carbon copying makes us abandon everything that is ours because we have been brainwashed to be ashamed of ourselves. Why havent our “educated” lawyers come up with a local replacement for those Colonial wigs?

  4. I have never heard of lawyers demonstrating agains a miscarriage of justice or even offering their services pro bono to help a person who is wrongfully convicted. Therein lies the problem.


  6. I tend to agree with Zambia First that this author needs to learn to be brief, precise and to the point. A good teacher told us that when writing, we should be brief, precise and keep to the point and relevance of the issue at hand, but that like the dress of a decent woman, long enough to cover the subject matter.

  7. The article is short to those who have maintained a culture of reading novels. Those who are used to reading SMS will complain of the length of an article. Nevertheless, I cannot concur more with the article written by the author. Travesty of justice stems from the way the jurors have been assembled. Appointment based on kith and patronage renders the judicial system porous and vulnerable to manipulation. Let an independent body of highly qualified justices have the responsibility of appointing judges minus the hand of politicians. This will fortify the credibility of the wheels of justice.

  8. Who has time to be reading novels in LT and social media outlets. LT and social media outlets where this author sent his article are not forums for reading novels. I therefore still stand with my opinion that the author of this article should learn to be brief, precise and concise while covering his subject matter.

  9. LT is not a journal. It sells itself as a news site so writing needs to follow journalism principles: long enough to cover the essentials and short enough to retain interest. So looooooong academic articles should be left to Universities and professional journals.

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