‘ADVERTISE CHIEF JUSTICE JOB’
By SIMON MUNTEMBA and OLIVER SAMBOKO
PROMINENT lawyers have supported State Counsel John Sangwa’s suggestion that the position of the Chief Justice should be publicly advertised for a transparent and rigorous process to find the most qualified, competent, and experienced person to head the Judiciary.
They have also supported the institution of a credible and transparent process for the selection of judges, similar to the process used in Kenya and the United States of America.
In a letter dated October 1, 2021, Lusaka-based lawyer John Sangwa appealed to President Hakainde Hichilema to subject the filling in of the vacant position of Chief Justice to a competitive and transparent process before it was taken to Parliament for ratification.
Mr Sangwa said appointment of the next Chief Justice must not be based on partisan, ethnic, regional or even personal lines but by the ideal that merit hard work and a clean track record.
In supporting Mr Sangwa, Mr Sakwiba Sikota, who is also a State Counsel, said advertising the position would enhance the discharge of justice in the country and promote democracy as the person who will be appointed would have been competently selected.
In an interview, Mr Sikota said while there was no provision in the republican constitution that bars the position to be advertised, there was also no part in the supreme law that stops the President from doing so.
“Subjecting the position of Chief Justice to an advert is not a bad idea because it will enhance the rule of law and promote democracy in the country as the person who will be picked will discharge their duties efficiently,” he said.
Others who spoke on condition of anonymity said President Hichilema should break the tradition where the Chief Justice was handpicked.
“Even if there was no law that allowed that, Counsel John Sangwa has a point because some judges that have been handpicked in the recent past did not perform to expectations. They ended up serving the interest of the appointing authority at the expense of Zambians. So the suggestion is welcome.
“In fact, in his address to Parliament, President Hichilema made it very clear that his administration would do things differently, therefore Zambians are patiently waiting to see how he moves in that direction,” one of the lawyers said.
However, Justice Minister Milambo Haimbe said while there was no provision to advertise the position, it was up to the President to take a position on the matter.
Mr Haimbe said the Presidency would respond to the letter written by Mr Sangwa at a later date.
Mr Sangwa said the Judicial Service Commission must invite interested people to apply for the vacant position and publicly interview them.
“For the first time in the history of this country, I implore you Mr President to allow the position of the Chief Justice to be publicly advertised, followed by a transparent and rigorous process to find the most qualified, competent, and experienced person to head the Judiciary,” Mr Sangwa wrote to President Hichilema.
He said subjecting the candidates to an open, competitive, and fair process would give all Zambians equal opportunity to apply for the highest job in the Judiciary because the current process had been a sham as it lacked any semblance of transparency or fairness.
Mr Sangwa also said that going to court nowadays was like going to a casino in that there was no consistency in decision-making as the Judiciary was full of bribery.
He said the consequence had been the emergence of a Judiciary that does not command the respect of the people it was supposed to serve.
Mr Sangwa said the decisions made at the court of law were rarely informed by the law and facts governing the case but by other variables, such as the intellectual capacity, temperament and experience of the Judge, parties to the proceedings and whether the Judge was receptive to bribes.
He said the woman or man who would emerge from the advertisement process as Chief Justice should be someone with an active conscience, a keen mind committed to fairness and reform of the Judiciary, and a person of unquestionable integrity.
Mr Sangwa said the new Chief Justice should be someone who had never abused public trust and with a demonstrable devotion to scholarship and a willingness to learn, to understand better, to judge better.