Sexual offenders in Zambia should look out.
They will now begin their minimum 25-year sentences earlier as the present system whereby they are tried by Magistrates courts and sentenced by the High Court is about to be scrapped.
Since Magistrates can only impose a maximum of nine-year sentences, any time they convict a sex offender they commit the convicts to the High Court for sentencing through a cumbersome committal process, while the convicts remain on remand.
Now however the Lusaka High Court has proposed an increase in sentencing powers for magistrates to enable them to deal with sexual offences without the process of committing convicts to the High Court.
High Court Judge Gertrude Chawatama, who made the proposal at the opening of the Lusaka High Court criminal sessions for 2015, said giving magistrates powers to sentence sexual offenders would help decongest the prisons.
Currently, the magistrates’ maximum power of sentencing stands at nine years and whenever anyone facing sexual offences is convicted, they are committed to the High Court for sentencing.
“We’re proposing that the same be increased to enable them to deal with sexual offences without the process of committing the convicts to the High Court for sentencing in order to reduce on the long period they wait for sentencing on account of challenges faced in transmitting case records and convicts to the High Court,” judge Chawatama said.
She also said sexual offences had continued to be on the rise despite the amendments effected to the Penal Code in 2005, which prescribed a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years imprisonment.
Director of National Prosecutions Authority (NPA) Mutembo Nchito said the opening of the session in Lusaka gave key players in the criminal justice sector an opportunity to consider its performance in 2014 and chart the way forward.
He said 2014 posed numerous challenges which included the inefficient transport system for ferrying accused persons to court and non-availability of a crime laboratory for forensic and pathological investigations by the police.
Nchito also cited the limited number of Legal Aid lawyers to handle matters that passed through the criminal justice system, among others.
Meanwhile, Prisons Service acting assistant commissioner Christopher Kajimbala has disclosed that there were 2,601 prisoners in the Lusaka region.
Addressing the court on prison matters, Kajimbala, who is Lusaka regional commanding officer, said 24 juveniles were still waiting confirmation by the High Court to be sent to reformatory school.
And during the opening of the High Court Criminal Sessions in Kitwe yesterday, judge Sichinga said the judiciary had not been spared by corruption.
“Fighting corruption is what will earn the judiciary its dignity, respect and trust from the common man. We believe that a corrupt free judiciary will instill confidence and facilitate justice,” he said.
Judge Sichinga said corruption was an enemy of development and of good governance, which must be gotten rid of and that the “relevance and worth of the judiciary” must be measured by how it “openly fights corruption and ensures speedy delivery” of justice.
“Members of the public equally have a duty to deal with judicial officers with integrity and honesty. They also have a duty to report any corrupt activity wherever it blossoms,” he said.
Judge Sichinga further said Zambians had become increasingly litigious and looked to the judicial system to be accountable, to help them find reasonable solutions and to ensure that justice prevails in the society at all times.
And Kitwe mayor Kelvin Sinyangwe said improving access to justice entails building more court facilities and recruiting more personnel.
“I am grateful that the government funded the judiciary to build two local courts, namely Nkana Rural Local Court and Kitwe Urban Local Court. These courts will ease access to justice; they (people) do not have to travel long distances to seek justice,” said Sinyangwe.
Meanwhile, Kamfinsa State Prison officer-in-charge Joseph Kondoloni said the Copperbelt had a total of 3, 873 prisoners and that the prisons faced the challenge of power cuts which compromised the security, particularly in the night.
And Ndola High Court judge-in-charge Jane Kabuka says the judiciary was concerned with the increasing cases of causing death by dangerous driving in Northern and Luapula provinces.
During the ceremonial opening of the criminal sessions held at the Ndola High Court for 2015, judge Kabuka said measures should be put in place to quickly address the situation before many lives are lost.
“No doubt the influx of second-hand vehicles that have flooded our motor vehicle market has caused unprecedented congestion on our roads in recent years. There is need to put in place measures that will quickly address this sad development.
“The judiciary will continue to play its role by imposing, in appropriate cases, deterrent sentences which fit the gravity of the offence in each particular case in order to assist to discourage the would-be offenders,” said judge Kabuka.
And Copperbelt minister Mwenya Musenge said the government did not improve the road network in the country for people to abuse them by speeding and being reckless.