LAZ says suggested changes to constitution will undermine judicial independence

LAZ says suggested changes to constitution will undermine judicial independence

The Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) has explained to the Constitutional Court that if the current attempts to amputate the Constitution are allowed, they will undermine the independence of the judiciary.

In this matter, LAZ and Chapter One Foundation have sued the Attorney General in the constitutional court over the government’s decision to alter the Constitution through Constitution (Amendment) Bill no.10 of 2019.

Testifying in court, LAZ president Eddie Mwitwa said the amendment of the Constitution will increase executive powers therefore diluting the authority of National Assembly.

He argued that if the Constitution amendment Bill was enacted into law, it would not be achieving the objective of refining the Constitution as LAZ was informed by Justice minister Given Lubinda but will be fundamentally altering the basic structure of the Constitution.

Mr Mwitwa said that prior to the enactment of the National Dialogue Forum (NDF) , the association was requested by the Minister to make submissions to the ministry.

He said LAZ was advised that the ministry of Justice was in the process of refining the Constitution of Zambia as amended in January, 2016.

“Our understanding was refining the Constitution and not fundamentally altering its structure or content,” Mwitwa said.

He said during the amendment of the Constitution in 2016 by the Technical Committee there was inclusivess and the consultations were broader.

Mwitwa said even the time frame for Technical Committe to do its work lasted a year whereas as the NDF only lasted for 10 days to execute its functions which period was extended by few more days.

He said after the NDF concluded its process, he made several efforts to get the resolutions but he did not find them.

Mwitwa further testified that he became aware of certain proposals in the Constitution Amendment Bill through press reports.

He cited the forum having agreed that there should be re-introduction of deputy ministers, extension of time for hearing the Presidential petition from14 days to 30 days, adding that all these were not taking into account the national values as demanded by the Constitution.

He said LAZ did not take any action because it did not see them but only heard through the press.

And Mwitwa said the council of LAZ issued a statement on 15 th July, 2019 on the concerns that the association had on Constitution Amendment Bill 10 of 2019.

“We were concerned with a number of proposals in the Constitution amendment Bill and some of these were re-introduction of deputy ministers in the government, introduction of a coalition government and we had concerns regarding the adverse effects the bill would have on the separation of powers,” Mwitwa said.

Mwitwa said the reason why LAZ did not participate or make submissions is because they already filed a petition in court.

He said it would be inappropriate for them to participate when they were challenging the Constitution in the manner proposed.

“We were also of the view that we were not going to be taken seriously if we participated,” he said.

In cross examination led by Kalaluka, Mwitwa insisted that LAZ was told the government was to refine the Constitution and not altering it.

He said he had not seen any evidence to show that national values were taken into account when amending the Constitution.

Mwitwa said the mere signing of the bill by Kalaluka contravenes the Constitution.

Ealier, the court dismissed an application by LAZ to vary directions and allow the association to file subpoenas directed at Lubinda and Attorney General Likando Kalaluka.

The application was made after the Court dismissed the ealier application to subpoena the duo on grounds that it did not comply with the directives of the court to have filed all necessary documents in the matter by November 5, 2019.

Instead of filing by November 5 as directed by the court, LAZ only filed its application to subpoena the witnesses on November 7, 2019 .

Judge Mungeni Mulenga sitting with other judges on the bench ruled that LAZ opted not to comply with orders of the court.

Judge Mulenga said the association had ample time to file their application as directed by the court and failure to do so was done at their own peril.

“This application is therefore denied,” ruled judge Mulenga.

On an application by Chapter One Foundation for orders to vary the point on how witnesses will be called, judge Mulenga said calling of witnesses was not the role of the court but the discretion of the parties.

The judge also denied this application.

There after, Constitutional Court president Hildah Chibomba ordered that the main petition be heard after which Mwitwa took to the stand.
Hearing continues today.

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