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Former Zambian President Loses Immunity - 2003-02-19

Former Zambian president Frederick Chiluba has lost a court battle to keep his immunity against prosecution. This follows today's Supreme Court judgment that parliament did not break any law when it decided last year to lift his immunity.

Chief Justice Earnest Sakala says the court reflected thoroughly before it arrived at its decision because of the historical nature of the case in both Zambia and the whole of the Commonwealth. Delivering a unanimous judgment on behalf of nine other Supreme Court judges, Justice Sakala says that the case was expected to set a precedent in this country. He says it was the first time that a court was called upon to decide on the immunity of a former head of state.

In Julky last year, President Levy Mwanawasa addressed parliament and presented a series of allegations that former president Chiluba had committed offences against the state while in office.

Five days later parliament passed a resolution lifting Mr. Chiluba's immunity against prosecution. But Mr. Chiluba went to court and challenged parliament's decision on several grounds. Through his lawyers Mr. Chiluba argued that parliament did not give him a chance to defend himself against the allegations and that the house did not follow correct procedure.

In it's ruling, the high court to which Mr. Chiluba had appealed confirmed parliament's procedure as correct - a decision that prompted the former head of state to further appeal to the supreme court. The Supreme Court says the constitution allows parliament to lift the immunity of a former head of state if it thinks such action will be in the interest of the nation. The court also notes that the law does not provide for a response by the accused except when the house is considering impeachment.

Following the Supreme Court judgment, the task force investigating economic mismanagement under the previous government was reported to have summoned Mr. Chiluba to appear before it.

Mr. Chiluba who was in court in the company of his new wife, Regina, refused to answer any questions from the media. He was quickly whisked away by his security officials as some people identified as his relatives expressed anger at the judgment.