THE Supreme Court yesterday sentenced Southern Africa Network against Corruption executive director Gregory Chifire to six years simple imprisonment over four counts of contempt of court.
And the court ordered the police to find Chifire who was not before court when the judgment was being delivered and hand him over to prison.
Chifire authored two letters, which he sent to Chief Justice Irene Mambalima and the chairperson of the Judicial Complaints Commission, which contained contemptuous words.
He also caused the articles to be published by Zambian Watchdog and The Mast in which he contended that the “Judiciary [was] one of the most corrupt in Zambia”.
Chifire wrote the two letters after the Supreme Court on March 13 upheld the Court of Appeal’s decision to reverse the award by the High Court damages of K192,500.000.00 and general damages in the case of Savenda and Stanbic Bank.
The Court of Appeal instead awarded nominal damages of K5,000, a decision Savenda appealed against to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court then summoned Chifire who pleaded not guilty.
He, however, admitted authoring the letters but denied that they were contemptuous.
Chifire also denied publishing a statement on the watchdog.
However, deputy Chief Justice Marvin Mwanamwambwa sitting with justices Evans Hamaundu, Mumba Malila, Roydah Kaoma and Nigel Mutuna, in delivering the judgment of the full court, said as to the contents of Chifire’s letter, to allege injustice on the part of any court was contemptuous because it suggests failure by the court to discharge its functions and an abrogation of its constitutional mandate which in effect erodes public confidence in the institution.
Justice Mwanamwambwa said one could not, without proof and in the manner Chifire did, allege injustice on the part of a court without sanction because it was an attack on the core function of the court.
“It eventually leads to interference in the administration of justice,” he said.
Justice Mwanamwambwa said the court was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Chifire was in contempt of court when he authored the letters and his words were actually contemptuous due to the effect they have on the administration of justice.
He said the statements by Chifire were calculated at demeaning the court and that it was evident from the number of persons and publications that echoed and continued to echo the alleged contemnors’ unjustified attacks against the judiciary.
“The alleged contemnor crossed the line and he must be punished…the contemnor is thus guilty of contempt of court on all four counts and we accordingly convict him,” justice Mwanamwambwa said.
He said the court in considering the sanction against Chifire considered the aggravating circumstances, which were the callousness with which he conducted himself as revealed by the statements he caused to be published after his letter to the Chief Justice.
Further, the court said the other aggravating issue was the lack of remorse or repentance on the part of Chifire as displayed by his conduct throughout the proceedings.
“This conduct was calculated at ridiculing the court, derailing the proceedings and administration of justice. Regrettably, counsel partnered with him in this effort when they came on the scene,” the court said.
The court said Chifire must also be punished for his attempt to divide the court by attributing the judgment in issue to the presiding panel when he knew or ought to have known that it was a unanimous decision of the full court.
Justice Mwanamwambwa said: “Having found that contemnor was in contempt of the court by virtue of his acts which were calculated to ridicule and bring the court into disrepute and thereby derail the administration of justice, we sentence the contemnor, one Gregory Chifire, to a term of six years simple imprisonment on each of the four counts. The said terms are to run concurrently.”
He then ordered the police to find Chifire and take him to prison.
Meanwhile, the court admonished Chifire’s lawyers Landilani Banda, Grace Kumwenda and McQueen Zaza for being discourteous to the court, adding that they failed in their duty to ensure the proper administration of justice.
Earlier, Chifire’s lawyers informed the court that their client travelled to Eastern Province after he was told that the judgment would not take off.