Chifire Gets Six Years for contempt
Southern Africa Network against Corruption executive director Gregory Chifire who was facing four counts of contempt of court for interfering with the judiciary and describing the institution as the most corrupt has been slapped with a six year simple imprisonment by the Supreme Court.
Deputy Chief Justice Marvin Mwanamwambwa has also suspended Chifire’s lawyers Landilani Banda, Grace Kumwenda , Macqueen Zaza for a period of six months for professional misconduct .
Chifire pleaded not guilty to the charges and denied that the letter he authored, which was sent to the Chief Justice Irene Mambalima and the chairperson of the Judicial Complaints Commission, contained contemptuous words.
He also denied being behind the articles published by Zambian Watchdog and on the article that was published by The Mast in which he contended that the “Judiciary [was] one of the most corrupt in Zambia.”
Chifire said what he said was not intended to demean the integrity of the judiciary.
On an article published by the Zambian Watchdog, Chifire said he did not know the Zambian Watchdog and denied giving an interview to them on the appeal judgment that the Supreme Court determined in favour of Stanbic Bank.
He, however, admitted writing the Chief Justice on the issues, saying he did so in his personal capacity as a citizen.
Chifire told the court that he wrote the Chief Justice because he was concerned with the negative comments members of the public were uttering about the integrity of the judiciary.
But in sanctioning him , the court has considered the aggravating circumstances in which the contemnor conducted himself as revealed by the statements he caused to be published after his letter to the Chief Justice.
The court has found that it was apparent during his testimony that he did not fully appreciate what transpired in all three courts in which the Savenda matter was adjudicated leading to the judgment, he therefore should not have proceeded to recklessly comment on the matter given his ignorance.
The other aggravating factor as established by the court is the lack of remorse or repentance on the part of the contemnor as displayed by his conduct throughout the proceedings adding that this conduct was calculated at ridiculing the court ,derailing the proceedings and administration of justice.
The court has noted that regrettably Chifire’s lawyers partnered with him in this scheme when they came on the scene.
Justice Mwanamwambwa has ruled that he has also considered the fact the contemnor was aware that the content of the online publication and in the Mast were contemptuous for that reason he sought to disassociate and distance himself from the publications despite his knowledge he made no effort to retract the statements or purge the contempt.
However he has stated that the contemnor must be published for his attempt to divide the court by attributing the judgment in issue to the presiding panel when he knew or ought to have known that it was pronounced as a judgment of the court .
Justice Mwanamwambwa adds that the court finds the conduct of Chifire’s lawyers as talking below the required professional standard and by this conduct they were also contemptuous in the face of the court , discourteous and failed in their duty to ensure the proper administration of justice in accordance with rule 32(1) of the legal practitioners practice rules.
The court has further noted that the lawyers partnered with their client to breach their duty to the progression which is unethical and lastly mocked the court and delayed proceedings which was calculated at derailing the proceedings.
“This conduct left us in shock and cannot go unpunished because the vice has become prevalent among counsel in our courts “Justice Mwanamwambwa stated.
He explained that the court hopes in the strongest terms that this action will send a message throughout the legal profession that the interests of a client do not override counsels paramount duty which is to the court.
A warning has further been sent to the media to be guided by this judgment to exercise caution before publishing unsubstantiated and or unverified outbursts and accusations against the judiciary in line with media ethics as they too are stakeholders in the administration of justice.
The Supreme Court bench comprising of deputy Chief Justice Marvin Mwanamwambwa, who sat with judges Gregory Phiri, Elizabeth Muyovwe, Mumba Malila, Evans Hamaundu, Roydah Kaoma, Michael Musonda, Jane Kabuka, and Nigel Mutuna.
Chifire closed his case without calling the Mast Reporter, whom the bench insisted must be availed before court.
Judge Mwanamwambwa then ordered that the matter proceeds by having a witness from the Mast newspaper on stand as Chifire was given a month to engage lawyers and organise his witnesses.
In response, Banda said the defence would only be ready after being given guidance as genuinely requested.
After the court refused to adjourn the case, Zaza attempted to apply to raise preliminary issues on points of law but the court declined to grant leave because it was not in compliance with the rules.
After Chifire could not avail the witness from The Mast, the court allowed him to give his testimony, which was not different from what he stated in his evidence-in chief, except this time, he admitted giving an interview to the Mast.