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Media, public have right to criticise courts – Mulongoti

 

THE public and the media have the right and duty to react or criticize any government institution, individual court judgments and judges, says Mike Mulongoti.

 

The Mast last week published an editorial comment calling for the scraping of the Constitutional Court for alleged incompetence.

Many others have criticised the ConCourt for a litany of issues, accusing  the judge of not being competent enough to run the court.

 

But the Law Association of Zambia condemned the editorial comment and said the public and the media must stay awat from commenting on operations of the courts or individual judges.

But Mulongoti, the People’s Party president and a lawyer by profession, said the court of public opinion was the highest court in the land and therefore the people of Zambia were of the view that by setting up a court exclusively for constitutional matters, it would speed up the resolution of the political disputes and enhance the ability of legitimately elected representatives to concentrate on performing their duties.

“The setting up of the Constitutional Court was a product of the submission of the people through the Willa Mung’omba Commission of Inquiry. It was premised on the judgments from courts on electoral matters of presidential and parliamentary petitions that were taking too long to conclude,” Mulongoti said.

“And because of that, the petitions became costly academic exercises.

So, the people of Zambia were of the view that by setting up a court exclusively for constitutional matters, it would speed up the resolution of the political disputes and enhance the ability of legitimately elected representatives to concentrate on performing their duties.”

He said the media and the public were the same petitioners who submitted to the Mung’omba commission of inquiry for the creation of the constitutional and human rights court and they were the same taxpayers sustaining the operations of the court created to serve the public.

Mulongoti further said unless there was acceptance to be criticized, it would be impossible for the nation to progress.

He added that sensitivity to criticism was a recipe for intolerance.

Mulongoti said while the public and the Judicial Complaints Commission (JCC) had criticized the Constitutional Court, he encouraged the court to also engage in self-criticism without taking external criticism as personal and in bad faith.

 

“For example, the 2011 elections had about 70 of 150 members of parliament, that is, about 50% of parliamentarians, being petitioned, which not only led to overloading of the High Court and Supreme Courts but also in the process crowding out other court matters. As a matter of facts, whenever there are petitions, the courts have prioritised election petitions to the extent of suspending longstanding and deserving criminal matters until after petitions,” Mulongoti said.

“In the meantime, both the petitioners and the petitioned are not at ease as petitioned MPs that make laws are for a long time treated as suspected riggers. Otherwise, between criminal and civil matters, the criminal matters, that crowd prisons, must take precedence as they also affect human rights of individuals as the state is involved and stronger than the individual.”

 

He noted that the Constitutional Court had made mistakes, which even the Judicial Complaints Commission (JCC) had acknowledged.

“…Therefore, the challenge from the beginning was that of junior judicial officers being appointed to the highest judicial institution,” said Mulongoti. “For lack of experience, the judges found themselves confronted by constitutional matters which either needed their resolution on which they either hesitated or referred the matters to other courts leading to further delays. The public and the media have the right and duty to react or criticize such delays, criticize any government institution, individual court judgments and individual court judges, and the entire institution. After all, these are the same petitioners who submitted to the Mung’omba commission of inquiry for the creation of the constitutional and human rights court…And unless we can accept to be criticized, it will be impossible for us to progress as a nation. Otherwise, sensitivity to criticism is recipe for intolerance.”

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