Supreme Court ‘stops’ Judge Chikopa’s Tribunal

Malawian Judge Lovemore Chikopo will be heading back to his country after a long stay following a verdict this evening by Supreme Court to halt the Tribunal he headed set up by President Michael Sata.

The tribunal was to probe Supreme Court Judge, Phillip Musonda and two High Court judges, Nigel Mutuna and Charles Kajimanga whom President Sata suspended in April 2012 for alleged professional misconduct.

The High court had ruled that the President was not in order to set-up a tribunal to probe the judges. The state appealed against the ruling.

This evening Acting Chief Justice Lombe Chibesakunda who delivered the long awaited verdict on behalf of seven Judges said that President Michael Sata did not breach his Constitutional powers.

“Although we agree that the President’s decision to appoint a tribunal was not ultra vires, we believe it would be advisable for the tribunal not to proceed due to the nature of issues raised and we make no orders with regards to costs,” said Chief Justice Chibesakunda who sat with her Deputy, Florence Mumba, Judges, Marvin Mwanamwambwa, Hildah Chibomba, Gregory Phiri, Munyinda Wanki and Elizabeth Muyovwe .

She however said the President has the power to set up a tribunal but advised against going ahead saying there were other options available to probe the erring judges. Justice Chibesakunda stated that the Tribunal could have however availed the three judges an opportunity to give their side of the story since it was not a prosecution.

The verdict that took about four hours to deliver, the Chief Justice described it as a landmark in the history of Zambia. She said its outcome would instill the sense of responsibility in the judiciary, the court’s jurisdiction as well as the conduct of the profession.

The Acting Chief Justice ruled High Court Judge Fulgence Chisanga misdirected herself when she granted the three Judges leave to apply for judicial review which also acted as a stay to the proceedings because the President had already appointed the tribunal.

The other three judgments by Judges Chibomba, Mwanamwambwa and Muyovwe differed with the Acting Chief Justice’s judgement saying the learned trial High Court Judge was on firm ground to stay the proceedings. The trio argued that Article 98 (3) which the President used to suspend the tribunal could be challenged through a judicial review by anyone who was not agreeable with the action because law was not static.

The four Judges: Chibesakunda, Mwanamwambwa, Chibomba, and Muyovwe voted to have the application appeal for a judicial review dismissed.

The President is yet to comment but Solicitor General Musa Mwenya who was standing for the State in the matter said the verdict was e landmark as it gave Judges an opportunity to exercise their independent minds to come up with the judgment.

Mr Mwenya said the judges could not be faulted for coming up with different views on the case.

“This is one case where judges have exercised different independent views in a serious and extremely constitutional matter. In my view the judges have acquitted themselves and they cannot be faulted with the way they have decided on this case,” said Mwenya after the delivering of the verdict at the Supreme Court.

He also said the matter had shown that the PF government respects Judiciary as it halted the tribunal when the three Judges begun proceedings challenging the legality of the Tribunal.

It has taken over a year for a decision to be made on the matter during which period the Head of the Tribunal Judge Chikopa had to stay in the country with all expenses met by the Zambian government. Some Zambians raised concerns that it was wasting of taxpayers’ money.