Judiciary and patriotism

The Merriam-Webster defines patriotism as, “love for or devotion to one’s country.” Simply stated, patriotism is the feeling of love for one’s country. Demonstrating patriotism – being ‘patriotic’ – is one of the necessities of being the stereotypical “good citizen.” And this is one of the virtues demanded of every citizen of this country, including those who perceive themselves as the most learned.

Opening the High Court sessions for 2022 early this week, Chief Justice Mumba Malila demanded patriotism from all judicial officers.

“My interpretation of our theme for this year is that all that seek justice, and those of us employed to dispense it, must train in patriotism. Patriotism should not allow anyone of us to acquiesce in any way in the obliteration of fundamental liberties and in ignoring the suppression of rectitude and accountability.
Patriotism enjoins all of us to question wrong doing, at least. Those not engaged in adjudication, and other avocations that deprive them of a public voice, should ask themselves a series of questions including these: Would I truly consider myself a patriot if I kept quiet whilst those entrusted with responsibility act irresponsibly? Would I be a true lover of my country if I did not put my talent at its disposal? Would I be showing patriotism if I engaged in scurrilous attacks on public officials for no other reason than hatred and spite based on artificial barriers and differences?” asked justice Malila. “True patriots shoulder the responsibility of holding their politicians accountable – to guarantee that the government remains a valid depiction of the people wishes. When the country appears polarised by petty squabbles and antipathies between political players, true patriots rise above them all and look at the bigger picture. In my view, the true test of our patriotic character is to stand for the right thing even if it is unpopular to our self-interest, perceived or real. True patriots in the Judiciary will bravely step forward, not only to dispense justice as they deliver true, unbiased judgments, but also speak out within their judgments when the path the country is treading needs to be altered for the benefit of all of its citizens.”

Adlai Stevenson once said, “Patriotism is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”

While James Bryce said, “Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong.”

And Frederick Douglass noted that, “The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.”

This call for patriotism from the head of our judiciary is necessary and timely. And he has explained various ways in which patriotism is displayed by every citizen.

Certainly, the conduct of some members of our judiciary over the years has left much to be desired – it has left more questions than answers. We have had judges and magistrates who have issued clear political statements on the bench, showing how politically aligned they are. This in itself has never shown any sense of patriotism. And as justice Malila has correctly guided, judicial officers should be the best reconciliatory even among serious political divisions in the nation. It is to the courts that everyone runs to when they feel treated unjustly, and they expect to find justice there.

It is therefore inconceivable that judicial officers should throw away patriotism in search of fame, political recognition and more wealth. Already, their conditions of service support them quite well. In case of judges, they receive reasonable salaries and pension benefits. In fact, even in retirement, a judge continues receiving 80 per cent of the incumbent’s salary until death. What more can a person ask for?

Yet, you have some of them throwing away patriotism and sacrificing the integrity of the judiciary. Eventually, they dent the image of the whole country at international level. It is judges who should help clean up and defend the Constitution, not creating more confusion by inventing questions that have not been asked by litigants and answering themselves. We witnessed such nation during the PF regime. It took 2.8 million Zambians to stop Edgar Lungu’s third term which was dubious granted to him by the Constitutional Court!

As correctly observed by Prashant Bhushan, “Every institution, including the judiciary has its share of black sheep and corrupt judges.”

Their patriotism should be shown in their judgments. This is why our Constitution has given them power to create case laws – precedents.

A golden opportunity has presented itself now for the judiciary to redefine itself and restore its image in the public eye. As things stand, very few Zambians, if any, have confidence in the judiciary because in the last seven years it became an instrument of State oppression and suppression. It is therefore a timely call from Dr Malila which no judicial officer should ignore. There is always a time for positive change and for the judiciary that time is now.

Theodore Roosevelt sums it up this way, “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”

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