NOEL IYOMBWA writes
THERE is need to guarantee every person access to a fair and just trial because access to justice is a fundamental right, Chief Justice Ireen Mambilima has said.
The Chief Justice observed that Zambia, like any other country with a people- driven constitution, was committed to ensuring that every person was subject to the law irrespective of their standing in society.
According to a statement issued by Phyllis Chilekwa, the First Secretary for Press and Public Relations at the Zambian Embassy in Belgium, Mrs Mambilima noted however that a number of people in the nation, especially those in the rural areas, still faced challenges in accessing justice owing to the high legal fees.
She was speaking in The Hague, Netherlands, during a dialogue discussion she co-presented with the Chief Justice of the Republic of Ghana, Sophia Akuffo, on the importance of justice for sustainable peace and development.
She explained that the country’s legal aid system did not also have sufficient capacity to assist all people who were unable to afford legal representation and access to the court system.
The Chief Justice however expressed optimism that the Government would find a solution to some of the challenges the courts faced in order to realize SDG 16 which demands for the promotion of access to justice for all and building of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels of society.
“The rule of law is simply the way it is. For example, Zambia has a constitution which is the product of the people, and under that constitution, laws have been made, and both the governors and the governed are subject to the same law. So, whoever contravenes the law is subject to that law,” she said.
“There are no sacred cows in the application of the law. It is the rule of law, not the rule of men therefore the law is paramount. So regardless of your social status, whether a lawmaker, law enforcement official or even a judge, when you break the law, you go through the same process of trail and you have the right to access to justice like every other person,” said Mrs Mambilima.
The Chief Justice explained that, “The challenges of delayed justice in Africa are real. To me, I think justice will be meaningless if it takes you so long to get through judicial systems and that is why I have appointed a special committee to tackle this issue by reducing delay and backlog, and so far the results have been phenomenal. However, there is still more to be done in case management especially with the help of technology.”
Justice Mambilima, together with 7 other Chief Justices and senior advocates from selected African countries are in the Netherlands on a working visit for Chief Justices from Africa.
The four- day’s meeting was organized by the African Foundation for International Law (AFIL), the African Institute of International Law (AIIL), the Hague Peace and Justice (HPJ), and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO.nl).
The meeting is expected to address key issues in relation to judicial systems in Africa, and how to advance access to justice globally.