DR FRED M’membe says there was no fair trial in the Chishimba Kambwili forgery case.
The Socialist Party president warns that given Kambwili’s very dangerous levels of hypertension, “If Mr Kambwili was to die in prison under these circumstances his death would be very difficult for this government to explain to our people”.
Magistrate David Simusamba on Wednesday sentenced Kambwili, leader of the opposition National Democratic Congress, to one-year imprisonment for forgery and another year for uttering a false document. The two sentences will run concurrently, meaning the NDC leader will only serve a year.
Reflecting on the conviction and imprisonment of Kambwili, Dr M’membe said he was not surprised that Kambwili has been convicted and sent to jail.
“Mr Kambwili had made very serious allegations of soliciting a bribe against the trial magistrate [David Simusamba]. The logical thing would have been to remove this magistrate from hearing Mr Kambwili’s case to ensure that a fair trial is not only guaranteed but it is also seen to be assured,” he said. “I don’t think Mr Kambwili received what can pass or be seen as a fair trial. Without delving into the merits or demerits of the case, very few can say Mr Kambwili has been convicted and sent to jail by an impartial magistrate. There was no fair trial in this case.”
Dr M’membe said it’s very important for every accused person to have a fair trial.
“It’s actually impossible to overstate how important the right to a fair trial is. Honestly. Fair trials are the only way to prevent miscarriages of justice and are an essential part of a just, fair and humane society. Every person accused of a crime should have their guilt or innocence determined by a fair and effective legal process,” he said.
“But it’s not just about protecting suspects and defendants. It also makes our nation safer and stronger. Without fair trials, victims can have no confidence that justice will be done. Without fair trials, trust in government and the rule of law collapses.”
Dr M’membe said the right to a fair trial has long been recognised by the international community as a basic human right.
“Despite this, it’s a right that is increasingly being abused in this country to settle political and other scores with devastating human and social consequences,” he noted.
“Despite the importance of fair trials being recognised by the international community, this basic human right is being abused day-in day-out in this country. We must put an end to these abuses. Let’s build a criminal justice system in which every person’s right to a fair trial is respected.”
Dr M’membe noted that building such a system won’t happen overnight.
“But with each step we take towards a criminal justice system in which every person’s right to a fair trial is respected, we are protecting our people against miscarriages of justice and building fair and effective criminal justice systems that benefit everyone,” said Dr M’membe.
“Lastly, my great fear is Mr Kambwili’s state of health. He has very dangerous levels of hypertension. If Mr Kambwili was to die in prison under these circumstances his death would be very difficult for this government to explain to our people. This may fuel very serious political mistrust, tension and instability.”
On Wednesday, magistrate Simusamba said he was giving a punitive sentence to Kambwili to deter would be offenders who thought that they could disrespect institutions of justice.
Kambwili was charged with three counts of forgery, uttering a false document and giving false information to a public officer, in relation to the registration of Mwamona Engineering and Technical Services Limited.
According to a complainant from Economic and Equity party leader Chilufya Tayali, the registration of Mwamona had anomalies.
The court, however, acquitted Kambwili on a charge of giving false information to a public officer as there was no evidence.
In his judgment, magistrate Simusamba said during the proceedings Kambwili lacked courtesy towards the court.
“I have considered the mitigation and the evidence on record and the fact that the convict is a first offender. I noticed the conduct of the convict and come to the conclusion that he has no regard to the institution of justice. During my career I have dealt with high profile cases such as that of Dr Nevers Mumba whose status is like that of the convict, an honourable person,” said magistrate Simusamba. “But none of his peers conducted themselves in the manner the convict did. They conducted themselves in a dignified manner, even though I convicted them; that’s how an honourable man should conduct himself. I will give a punitive sentence to the convict in order to deter would be offenders who think they can disrespect the institutions of justice. I sentence him accordingly. Count one, 12 months imprisonment with hard labour; count two, 12 months’ imprisonment with hard labour to run concurrently.”
At this point defence lawyers Musa Mwenye and Keith Mweemba said Kambwili had lodged an application for bail pending appeal to the High Court as the outcome of the judgement was anticipated.
But magistrate Simusamba rejected the application, wondering what time it had been filed when he had just delivered his judgement.
He said the application for bail pending appeal will be determined on Tuesday next week.
The stressed-looking Kambwili composed himself afterwards and urged his daughter Chanda not to cry as the outcome of the judgement was anticipated.