Zambia has moved from being a major copper producer and potentially one of Africa’s richest countries at independence in 1964 to one of the world’s poorest. A colonial legacy, mismanagement, debt and disease are said to have contributed to the country’s tribulations.

The judicial system in Zambia lacks the capacity to deal effectively with the proliferation of litigation and cases, which tend to drag on for years before they are disposed of. The judicial sector is further constrained by diminishing courtroom space and a critical shortage of judges and magistrates to expeditiously dispense justice. This has deterred foreign investment due to fear on the part of investors that the judicial system is so badly run down that it cannot offer adequate legal protection for investments. Lack of information and basic resources aggravate this situation, in addition to Zambia’s incapacity to promptly update legislation in light of regional and global trends. This inability to revise legislative provisions has led Zambia to maintain antiquated laws whose net effect has been to negate sustainable human development and good governance.

In order to aid the further education of judicial assistants in Zambia, thereby encouraging the development of the Zambian judiciary, an exchange of judicial assistants was arranged. Senior Judicial Assistant, Michelle Flynn, visited Zambia in May 2009. In particular, the project included an analysis of the computerisation of certain administrative aspects within the Irish Courts Service such as the electronic payment of fines and fees. This analysis was taken with a view to the adoption and implementation of such information technology within the Zambian courts system. Two additional key areas that were focused upon were an analysis of the Rules of the Superior Courts in Ireland and the functioning of the Commercial Court; both were relevant as the Zambian legal system was undergoing contemporaneous changes in these areas. You can read Ms. Flynn’s Personal Summary and Observation Report here.

In August 2010, Mr. Mathew Zulu, Special Assistant to the Chief Justice for Legal Affairs in Zambia, travelled to Ireland to undertake his part of the exchange. IRLI in conjunction with the Courts Service hosted Mathew’s visit. A two-week programme was drawn up and organised by Michelle Flynn in which Mathew was to meet with key people in the Irish Courts Service and members of the Irish judiciary. The Courts Service provided vital assistance in facilitating this two-week programme, in particular Ms. Nuala McLoughlin, Head of the Supreme and High Court Operations Directorate.

The starting point for Mathew’s visit was a tour of the Four Courts, the Criminal Courts of Justice and various court houses in Dublin city centre, however the focus of his visit was to provide training and guidance on the areas which had been identified as impeding the expeditious administration of justice in Zambia.

The four key areas identified by Michelle Flynn as areas in which training was necessary were as follows:

1. The running of a library and overall knowledge management

The Library for the Judiciary in the Superior Courts in Zambia is ill equipped.  Mathew met with Joe Donnelly, the Head Librarian at the Judges’ Library in the Four Courts, and received two days training with library staff in the Judges’ Library. Over these two days Mathew received training on the layout and management of a Judges’ Library in addition to training on knowledge management and use of electronic databases. Training sessions also extended to the cataloguing of books and the supplemental electronic library which the staff also operate.  This proved to be essential training for Mathew and with the benefit for the Zambian Judges’ Library in Lusaka being able to be implemented almost immediately and the other more long-term implementation being ultimately achieved at a low cost.

2. Judicial Researchers’ Office

As the focus of the trip was indeed to set up a Judicial Researchers’ Office for the Superior Courts in Lusaka, Mathew greatly benefited from working in the Judicial Researchers’ Office for over two days and in particular, shadowing the current Senior Judicial Researcher, Ms. Sinead Kelly. The training was focused on the use of electronic resources and databases as this is a cost-effective solution for the lack of resources which the judges of the Superior Courts of Zambia are currently experiencing.

3. Case Management & Progression

There is a critical issue of delay in the Zambian system and from the initiation of a case, criminal or civil, it may take up to 10 years for that case to be decided upon.  Mathew’s meeting with the County Registrar for a discussion of case progression in family law cases and the training on case management systems within the Courts Service was of tremendous benefit.

4. Digital Audio Recording and the use of Interpreters in the Irish Courts

After a comparative analysis of the system currently in place dealing with the making of records of evidence in Court and the use of interpreters in Zambian courts, Mathew met with Mr. Brian Battelle for a briefing on the Digital Audio Recording system currently operating in the new Criminal Courts of Justice and also on managing interpretation requirements of courts.

The exchange is currently being followed up and reported upon, in anticipation of further visits.

This project is funded by Irish Aid