THE SADC Lawyers Association says failure to give lawyer John Sangwa opportunity to be heard on his ban by the judiciary leaves an inescapable impression of victimisation and possible abuse of authority.
In a statement condemning the Zambian Judiciary’s decision to ban Sangwa from appearing before any court on account of a complaint lodged with the Law Association of Zambia, the SADC Lawyers Association stated that it noted, with great concern, the developing and growing tendency in the region to harass and intimidate lawyers in performance of their duties as officers of the court.
It said harassment and intimidation of lawyers had been recently noted in Namibia and Angola with devastating consequences, and now in the case of Sangwa in Zambia.
“We have come to know Mr Sangwa as a senior and experienced lawyer, whom we understand fully appreciates his role as an officer of the court, the duties he has to discharge and the manner in which such duties must be discharged. In the event that: – in the view of those before whom he appeared, he acted contrary to the standards expected of an Officer of the Court, he must be given an opportunity to state his side of the case in an open and impartial court,” reads the statement. “Failure to do this leaves an inescapable impression of victimisation and possible abuse of authority.”
The SADC Lawyers Association stated that the basic right to be heard before a decision, as drastic as the one taken against Sangwa by the Zambian Judiciary, was sacrosanct and must be adhered to at all times.
“To bar Mr Sangwa from employing his trade under the circumstances, is drastic. It can only have the effects of intimidating and instilling fear, not only in him, but the entire legal profession in Zambia. This will keep lawyers from exercising their responsibility independently, without fear and favour,” they stated. “Under the circumstances, we note and support the step that the Judiciary has taken in reporting the matter to the law society for investigation. We nevertheless feel strongly that the matter must not be prejudged and Mr Sangwa must be allowed to practice his trade and to discharge his responsibilities independently, without fear, favour or prejudice. Even more, in view of the fact that the Court itself is a complainant in this matter, it cannot take a decision that is akin to punishment, whilst the complaint is still under investigation.”
The association called on the Zambian Judiciary and the entire Zambian government to uphold the UN Basic principles on the Role of Lawyers, specially that, “Governments must ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment, or improper interference,… c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards and ethics”.
It urged the Zambian Judiciary to do nothing that would diminish the confidence that the public had in the court system as a last resort in the adjudication of disputes, whether criminal or civil.
“And therefore, whilst the Law Association of Zambia is investigating the matter of Mr Sangwa, which investigation must be done speedily, but fairly, Mr Sangwa must be allowed to practice his trade as a lawyer without hindrance,” reads the statement. “We trust and hope that all parties understand and appreciate the need to protect the independence and the integrity of the Judiciary in order to advance democracy in Zambia.”