WE are not available to commit contempt of court over Constitution (Amendment) Bill number 10, says UPND deputy spokesperson Cornelius Mweetwa.
Law Association of Zambia lawyer John Sangwa has warned Speaker of the National Assembly and all members of parliament that they would be committing contempt of court if they go ahead to deliberate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill number 10 currently before the house.
Sangwa’s warning followed Speaker Dr Patrick Matibini’s refusal to stop considering the bill on account of Parliament enjoying the doctrine of exclusive cognisance.
“The doctrine provides, in essence, that the House enjoys exclusive and unfettered jurisdiction in the conduct of its internal proceedings,” according to a letter to Simeza, Sangwa & Associates, from Clerk of the National Assembly’s office, which was signed by Parliamentary Legal Counsel Doris Kapumba.
The Clerk also advised that the Speaker was unable to make the undertaking requested on account of the doctrine of exclusive cognisance, which provides, in essence, that the House enjoys exclusive and unfettered jurisdiction in the conduct of its internal proceedings.
She also advised Simeza Sangwa & Associates to note that application of the sub judice rule to the business of the National Assembly is not absolute.
“It has to be decided by the Speaker on the merits of each case. In the circumstances, the Honourable Mr Speaker has elected to exercise his discretion to allow consideration of the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill, No. 10 of 2019 by the Select Committee, and eventually the House,” stated the Clerk.
But in a letter to the Speaker dated August 21, 2019, State Counsel Sangwa, a constitutional lawyer and law lecturer, said the supremacy clause in Article 1(1) of the Constitution was not an embellishment to the Constitution.
“It means something and has repercussions. The Constitution of Zambia is and has always been the supreme law of the Republic of Zambia. Mr Speaker, the office of Speaker of the National Assembly, and the National Assembly itself are creations of the Constitution, therefore, they are both subject to the Constitution,” Sangwa warned.
“Secondly, unless it is the intention of the National Assembly to push the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill number 10 of 2019, through the stages outlined in your letter without debate or consideration of the ramifications of its various provisions, both you Mr Speaker and the rest of the members of the National Assembly will be in contempt of court. Thirdly, equally self-evident is the fact that the proviso to Article 18 (8) of the Constitution, which recognizes the right of any court of record to punish “any person for contempt of itself not withstanding that the act or omission constituting the contempt is not defined in written law and the penalty therefore is not so prescribed,” is not a hollow provision.”
Commenting on the caution, Mweetwa, who is Choma Central member of parliament, said he had read Sangwa’s submissions.
Mweetwa, a lawyer himself, said as a member of parliament, he got very concerned with issues to do with contempt of court.
“And I am not willing to disobey the courts of law. I am not available, just like all UPND MPs, we are not available to commit contempt of court. So if some people will go ahead with Bill number 10, they will do it on their own,” he said. “We as law-abiding members of parliament, we shall have nothing to do with Bill number 10 whatsoever. So State Counsel Sangwa should take solace that in his contemplation of people who may commit contempt of court, we the members of parliament of the UPND wish to say that we shall not be part of that group because we respect the rule of law. It’s not out of fear; it is out of the respect for the rule of law. And if a matter is in court and someone wants us to begin to disobey the courts, no, we are not available for such contemptuous behavior.”