BY SEAN MATEUS
I am told we are mixing issues here, activism and lawyering. Tisankhe chimodzi. Either we advocate for legalization of the infamous plant or let judicial officers do their job. Fair enough. Tsiku lina tizacheza on why courts, or their decisions, are not and should never be above public scrutiny.
Pano tikambe za activism izi. I will put it this way, activism in legal circles is as old as the trade itself. In fact, a fair case can be made that the 2 are inseparable. Thing is, when a prosecutor seranades the court to mete out a stiffer punishment to a convict because there is a rise in the number of offences for which that particular individual has been convicted of, that is more than lawyering. It is activism. The prosecutors call alone can be the difference between spending a couple more years or fewer behind bars, depending on how the sentencer views it in light of all the evidence, mitigating and aggravating circumstances before him.
Societal considerations will always be a part of the judgement. I can’t think of a scenario where the court returns a guilty verdict on a murder charge then proceed to sentence the offender to say, one week imprisonment or community service. That inadequate sentence will certainly offend the justice sensibilities of the public and bring the justice system into disrepute. The public is the biggest stakeholder in the delivery of justice. It cannot be ignored.
Laws interpreted by the court are not interpreted in a vacuum, they are interpreted with the wider public in mind. Granted, the public will not always get what it wants but it’s general notions of justice will always be taken into consideration.
There was a time, not very long ago, when sentences for rape convicts averaged around 7 years and it was somehow wrongly believed the maximum sentence in such instances was 14 years. Following PUBLIC outcry (not parliament chamber), and activism OUTSIDE the courtroom, courts moved themselves to start meting out harsher sentences. The average right now is 20 or thereabout years. Today, it is very rare to hear of a sentence of less than 10 years met out to a rape/defilement convict.
So what happened?
The public’s notion of justice was offended. The public let the judiciary know exactly how it felt about it throug activism. Eventually, the judiciary responded accordingly!
I don’t see how this M.O is unfit in cases of Mussa’s nature.
We are not here to restate the fact that the criminal justice system treats the poor harsher than the rich. No. That is clear for all to see. All we are asking for is that poor folks be accorded the same privileges as the rich folks. All we are saying is that where a rich Don gets away with bail and nothing more, poor folks should too! Subjecting a poor accused person to a different standard of justice because of his poverty is not justice, it is the criminalization of his poverty!
And if rich people can escape the jaws of justice because of nothing else peculiar but their money, what does that say about the integrity of the justice system and those who man it? Ain’t that the commercialization of a sacred sphere of the society? If all one needs, or significant portion of it, is money to sit above the law, then why should we as a nation waste resources investing in competent judicial officers when at the end of the day their competence will never be called to issue but rather the economic status of the litigant before the court?
We need to be careful of what we wish for. We just might get it!