Chief Justice Irene Mambilima has noted with concern the high number of people, especially in the rural areas, facing challenges in accessing justice owing to high legal fees.
And justice Mambilima has said there is no sacred cow in the application of the law in Zambia as all people, including leaders, are subject to the same laws.
Justice Mambilima explained that the country’s legal aid system does not have sufficient capacity to assist all people who are unable to afford legal representation and access to the court system.
She was speaking at The Hague in Netherlands during a dialogue discussion which she co-presented with Chief Justice of the Republic of Ghana Sophia Akuffo on the importance of justice for sustainable peace and development.
Justice Mambilima said access to justice is a fundamental right, hence the need to guarantee every person access to an independent and impartial process and the opportunity to receive a fair and just trial.
She explained that Zambia, like any other country with a people driven constitution, applies the rule of law, which implies that every person is subject to the law, including lawmakers, law enforcement officers, as well as judges.
“The rule of law is simply the way it is. For example, Zambia has a constitution which is the product of the people, and under that constitution, laws have been made, and both the governors and the governed are subject to the same law. So, whoever contravenes the law is subject to that law,” justice Mambilima said.
She further reiterated that there are no sacred cows in the application of the law.
“It is the rule of law, not the rule of men, therefore the law is paramount. So regardless of your social status, whether a lawmaker, law enforcement official or even a judge, when you break the law, you go through the same process of trail and you have the right to access to justice like every other person,” justice Mambilima said.
“The challenges of delayed justice in Africa are real. To me, I think justice will be meaningless if it takes you so long to get through judicial systems and that is why I have appointed a special committee to tackle this issue by reducing delay and backlog, and so far the results have been phenomenal. However, there is still more to be done in case management especially with the help of technology.”
Justice Mambilima, together with seven other Chief Justices and senior advocates from selected African countries, are in the Netherlands on a working visit.
The four-day meeting which has been organised by the African Foundation for International Law (AFIL), African Institute of International Law, The Hague Peace and Justice, as well as the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO.nl) is expected to address key issues in relation to judicial systems in Africa, including cutting edge insights on how to advance access to justice globally as well as types of proceedings and divisions in customary, informal, and formal approaches.