The Judiciary has been faulted for occasioning injustice to a group of former employees of a semi-government company, after failing to hear their complaint for over 20 years, prompting a strong rebuke from the Ombudsman.
According to details of a determination by Ombudsman Martha Chizuma-Mwangonde, four former employees of DEMATT lodged a complaint at the High Court following their dismissal.
However, the quest for justice by the four Wilson Kachepa, David Chiphwanya, Fellow Maliro and Rodgers Mbekeani—has suffered setback after setback, including being transferred from one lawyer to another; a lawyer disappearing; unavailability of trial judges, and more incomprehensibly, missing of crucial court documents. But in her determination, Chizuma-Mwangonde said there was clear evidence that the “Judiciary has failed in their duty in the manner over which they have handled the case”.
“For starters, for 20 years they have failed to hear this matter for reason of non-availability of judges on dates set by themselves. Now, they cannot trace a file within their own system, which on its own is a reflection of poor record-keeping,” said the Ombudsman.
She noted that while this might look like simple systematic failures, the consequences were huge for the complainants. “The human story behind this is that their lives got disrupted when their jobs, which were their source of survival, were allegedly unlawfully and unfairly taken away,” added ChizumaMwangonde.
She ordered that the court immediately take steps to make a duplicate of the missing file and further ordered the Legal Aid Department to provide legal representation to the four. In an interview, Judiciary spokesperson Mlenga Mvula while not directly referring to the case, said the Judiciary has taken a number of steps to improve its case management system.
According to the determination, the complainants first sought justice from a lawyer who transferred them to another lawyer who has since disappeared, and whose office doors have been shut.
After changing lawyer, they found out that at High Court judges were not available to hear their case on numerous occasions and, when a judge finally turned up, their case file was missing.