THE complaint by a traditional leader that there is no justice in the local courts because most adjudicators lack basic training deserves some attention.

This is because the local courts occupy a very important place in Zambia’s justice delivery system.

Zambia has a dual legal system where the Constitution recognises both statute and customary laws.

It is under the customary law that the local courts operate. There is no clear criteria for employing the magistrates except that they are conversant with the customs, practices and beliefs of their society.

There is no written law that guides these courts the way the other courts are guided by the Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and other written statues when hearing criminal and civil matters.

This has left the system porous.

While the local courts have been helping in delivering justice to the lowest layers of the Zambian society who cannot afford the astronomical costs of taking their issues to the conventional courts, there is a lot of room for improvement.

Right now, there are many people who are hurting as a result of what they may view as unfair decisions made by local court magistrates.

It is in this vein a traditional leader in Siavonga has called for the reformation of local court justice system in Zambia.

Rogers Kandama, who is Kanyelele headman, said in an interview with the Sun that there is no fair  justice because some   judgments from the local courts are not fair but biased.

This statement maybe too general and too harsh, but there is some iota of truth in it.

Where there is no written law to be used as the reference point when arriving at decisions affecting the welfare, freedom, emotional health or entitlement of a party to a case the system is open to the whims of those hearing the case.

In some cases the mood of the bench may influence their decisions, and there is no document one can use to challenge them.

Of course, there are many cases in which the courts have dispensed justice with fairness and have protected the weak.

In most of these cases the aggrieved parties have not even bothered to go through the rigours of appealing because they have lost confidence in the whole justice system.

We are tempted to agree with headman Kanyelele that there is an urgent need for some of the  people administering justice in local courts to go for training to learn how to discharge justice. 

They need to understand the rudiments of justice and human rights.

People have been remanded in custody for merely disagreeing with what the court or a party to the case may have said.

Headman Kanyelele wondered why a court that is based on custom and tradition should force people to swear on the Bible.

The headman said he had on several occasions attended local court sessions and that what he had discovered was that real justice did not exist in the lowest courts. 

Mr Kandama said that because of the injustices in the local courts, the magistrates and high courts were full of appeals from the same courts. 

Indeed, we appreciate the role our local courts play in maintaining peace and ensuring there is justice in our communities, especially among the poor.

But the system must be reformed to move with the times.

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