It is unacceptable that Zambian citizens should be languishing in detention because the Legal Aid Board has failed to secure the services of qualified, competent and committed legal practitioners to represent them in court.
It is not as if the lawyers are doing this pro bono, which indeed some lawyers are. They are actually paid by Government to provide legal representation, sometimes in advance, but they take their duty and responsibility lightly not giving any thought to the victims who suffer incarceration.
It is most unfortunate that in spite of change of nomenclature, legal aid, nothing has changed. Many deserving Zambians suffer long and inordinate delays at the hands of our criminal justice system which at best is slow and at worst totally inefficient, unnecessarily complicated and more often than not dysfunctional.
The biggest problem in the criminal justice system is uncoordinated and unresponsive case management.
Nearly all cases suffer long delays because files are lost, presiding officers are unavailable, courtrooms are too few. As a result suspects remain on remand for a long time and those without representation suffer even more delays.
The situation is compounded by the highly subjective bail and bond system which is entirely dependent on the officer’s this discretion.
The same offence in the same circumstances, different presiding officers will impose different and sometimes contradictory conditions. This is the same as terms of imprisonment. For the same offence and in spite of existing guidelines, magistrates and judges will offer different sentences.
These are all determined by the individual presiding officer, often without any reference to precedence.
The biggest sufferers in this case are the unrepresented prisoners who have no idea how to navigate the system in order to fulfill the conditions stipulated for their freedom.
It is even worse for political cases where huge amounts in cash payments are demanded in addition to providing working sureties who in some cases are supposed to be senior civil servants.
This is in spite of, and considering that, the detainee may not be in good books with the Government and therefore no public officer would want to associate with them.
These are the issues we expect that the Legal Aid counsel will help in resolving through appropriate applications instead of leaving the task to individual suspects.
The Legal Aid Board must as a matter of necessity, work to re-organise itself and respond to the call made by Judge Kondolo who was flabbergasted that private lawyers who are properly remunerated fail to represent clients who must suffer unnecessary and uncalled for delays and adjournments.