ZAMBIA: Practice ban against Zambian lawyer John Sangwa
On Friday 13 March, the judiciary barred lawyer John Sangwa from appearing in any court in Zambia pending the decision on the complaint against him filed against him with the Law Association of Zambia.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Diego García-Sayán, strongly condemned this decision by the Zambian judiciary as a blatant violation of human rights.
In an notice of 13 March 2020 addressed to all judges of the Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, Court of Appeal, High Court, Registrars and Magistrates, Acting Chief Registrar Prince Boniface Mwiinga announced that Sangwa would no longer be allowed to appear before any court.
“This action has been brought as a result of a malpractice complaint filed by the judiciary with the Lawyers Association of Zambia against John Sangwa,” the notice says.
Sangwa has been critical of the courts and the government. In radio and television appearances he claimed that President Edgar Lungu was not eligible for the presidency in 2021: the Zambian constitution allows an individual to be elected twice to the presidential office. President Lungu has already held the office twice, making him ineligible. Mr. Sangwa also openly criticized the appointment of judges to the new Constitutional Court. He argues that they are insufficiently qualified because they do not have the qualifications required by law – 15 years of experience and specialized training in constitutional law and/or human rights.
These comments reportedly provoked negative reactions from several members of the judiciary. These judges denounced John Sangwa to his professional body, saying that he was not acting in accordance with the standards expected of a judicial officer.
Diego García-Sayán, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, stated that the decision of the judiciary was a blatant violation of human rights. He stated that lawyers must be independent and preserve their professional and intellectual independence.
The Southern African Development Community – Lawyers’ Association (SADC-LA) together with Amnesty International and the Southern African Litigation Centre consider in a statement that the Zambian authorities must immediately and unconditionally reinstate lawyer John Sangwa and allow him to practice his profession. These local organizations consider the ban on John Sangwa’s practice to be particularly worrying and aimed at intimidating him and other lawyers in order to prevent criticism of the justice system.
They call on the authorities in their statement to allow John Sangwa the opportunity to present his version of events before an open and impartial court.
The OIAD wishes to recall that under the Principle No. 23 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers of the United Nations:
“Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights (…)“.
The OIAD supports our colleague John Sangwa who has been banned from practicing law by the judiciary in Zambia.
The OIAD wishes to remind the Zambian authorities that under the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and in particular Principle No. 27:
“Charges or complaints made against lawyers in their professional capacity shall be processed expeditiously and fairly under appropriate procedures. Lawyers shall have the right to a fair hearing, including the right to be assisted by a lawyer of their choice“.
The OIAD urges the Zambian authorities to recognize the right to freedom of expression of lawyer John Sangwa and to allow him to challenge this decision to ban him from practicing his profession as soon as possible in an independent and fair procedure.