JUDGMENT in a case in which Southern Africa Network against Corruption executive director Gregory Chifire is facing four counts of contempt of court has been set for November 28.
Chifire last month pleaded not guilty to the charges and denied that the letter he authored, which was sent to the Chief Justice Irene Mambalima and the chairperson of the Judicial Complaints Commission, contained contemptuous words.
He also denied being behind the articles published by Zambian Watchdog.
On the article that was published by The Mast in which he contended that the “Judiciary [was] one of the most corrupt in Zambia”, Chifire said what he said was not intended to demean the integrity of the judiciary.
The Supreme Court bench comprising of deputy Chief Justice Marvin Mwanamwambwa, who sat with judges Gregory Phiri, Elizabeth Muyovwe, Mumba Malila, Evans Hamaundu, Roydah Kaoma, Michael Musonda, Jane Kabuka, and Nigel Mutuna, reserved judgment in the matter to November 28 after Chifire gave his testimony without calling a Mast Newspaper reporter whom they ordered him to avail to aid his case.
Chifire closed his case without calling the Mast Reporter, whom the bench insisted must be availed before court.
And when the matter was called for hearing, Chifire, who finally managed to retain lawyers Landilani Banda, Grace Kumwenda and McQueen Zaza, sought guidance from the bench on whether the contempt proceedings he was facing were criminal or civil in nature.
It became heated between Chifire’s lawyers and the judges who felt that their integrity was been insulted.
The judges said the lawyers were taking them through legal gymnastics and circus in a bid to secure adjournment, which the bench said it was not going to allow until Chifire called his witness from The Mast.
Zaza submitted that according to the summons, it was clear that Chifire was facing civil contempt proceedings but noted that in the record of the previous sittings, he was made to plead guilty or not guilty to all the four counts, which was unique in civil proceedings.
He said according to order 52 rule (1) paragraph three of the White Book, there was a distinction between criminal and civil proceedings, adding that Chifire has so far not disobeyed any order for it to come to criminal proceedings.
Judge Hamaundu, however, wondered whether the lawyers were seeking guidance by lecturing the judges on procedure while judge Kaoma added it was clear from the record that Chifire was facing civil contempt proceedings.
“So you want to lecture us on the procedure?” she asked.
But Banda said the seeking of guidance from the bench did not in any way demean the judges, saying they were merely ably representing their client and making sufficient postulation of law that might or might not be of help to the court.
Judge Mwanamwambwa then ordered that the matter proceeds by having a witness from the Mast newspaper on stand as Chifire was given a month to engage lawyers and organise his witnesses.
“We will not allow the lawyers to start seeking guidance thus breeding confusion,” he said and asked whether they were ready.
In response, Banda said the defence would only be ready after being given guidance as genuinely requested.
After the court refused to adjourn the case, Zaza attempted to apply to raise preliminary issues on points on law but the court declined to grant leave because it was not in compliance with the rules.
Judge Mwanamwambwa said if the lawyers were not in compliance with the procedure of raising a preliminary issue, the matter should then proceed to trial.
Judge Musonda added: “This merry-go-round should stop” while judge Mutuna asked whether the witness from the Mast was present.
In response, Banda said the witness was not in court and insisted that the court must appreciate the challenge they faced having been retained on Tuesday but judge Mutuna said that was misconduct and urged the lawyer not to use the excuse of being retained this week.
Kumwenda at this point asked that the team files a motion to raise preliminary issue but the court again threw it out, saying lawyers must always come to court prepared.
“This is not a circus and not a fertile ground for counsel to do research. It is incompetence for counsel to walk into court unprepared,” said judge Mutuna as judge Mwanamwambwa ordered trial to start.
After Chifire could not avail the witness from The Mast, the court allowed him to give his testimony, which was not different from what he stated in his evidence-in chief, except this time, he admitted giving an interview to the Mast.
On an article published by the Watchdog, Chifire said he did not know the Zambian Watchdog and denied giving an interview to them on the appeal judgment that the Supreme Court determined in favour of Stanbic Bank.
He, however, admitted writing the Chief Justice on the issues, saying he did so in his personal capacity as a citizen.
He said he wrote the Chief Justice because he was concerned with the negative comments members of the public were uttering about the integrity of the judiciary.
Chifire’s lawyers attempted to adjourn the matter so that they bring the reporter from The Mast but the judges told them that the only chance they had was to avail the witness yesterday but since they did not avail him, they should just file written submissions and adjourned the case to November 28 for judgment.