On 15 September 2021, the Disability Rights Unit, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, hosted a report validation workshop at the Taj Pamodzi Hotel, Lusaka, Zambia. The draft report titled ‘Persons with disabilities and barriers to equal access to justice in Zambia: A research study of the criminal justice system’ forms part of a larger study on access to justice, which the Unit is undertaking in South Africa, Zambia and Botswana.
The workshop was facilitated by Ms Dianah Msipa and Mr Wilson Macharia from the Disability Rights Unit, alongside the consultant who undertook the research Mr Victor Mukupa. In attendance were personnel from government departments and disabled pe’ organisations that took part in this study; namely the Legal Aid Board, Zambia Correctional Service, Judiciary, Zambia Police Service, Department of Social Welfare, Anti-Corruption Commission, Drug Enforcement Commission, National Prosecuting Authority, Department of Immigration, Ministry of Justice and Zambia Deaf Youth and Women.
One of the findings of the draft report is that persons with disabilities indeed participate in the criminal justice system, either as complainants, witnesses, accused persons or even as judicial officers and lawyers. They, however, face several barriers due to the inaccessible justice infrastructure, negative attitudes and stereotypes by justice sector personnel, inaccessible communication, and lack of awareness on how to accommodate different types of disabilities.
There are also several barriers caused by the prescribed procedures and the laws that inform the operations of the Zambian criminal justice system. These include the assessment of fitness to plead for persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities; the methods and formats of issuing summons; the lack of recognition of sign language interpretation for the Deaf; the lack of provision for Braille and other alternative formats for persons with visual impairments; and the failure to recognise the legal capacity of persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities.
Beyond identifying these barriers, the study proposes key recommendations, which if adopted by the relevant stakeholders, shall enhance access to justice for persons with disabilities in Zambia. These include the need to provide procedural and age-appropriate accommodations tailored to meet the needs of persons with different types of disabilities; training of the criminal justice personnel on disability rights, including the appropriate accommodations; and the provision of court proceedings and material in alternative formats, such as Braille, sign language and other accessible formats. The justice system should further recognise that all persons with disabilities have the right to enjoy legal capacity.
In his opening remarks, Prof Frans Viljoen, the Director of the Centre for Human Rights emphasised the need for collaborative efforts between various actors, including those in government, judicial officers, justice personnel, lawyers, civil society, regional and international organisations, to enhance access to justice for persons with disabilities in Zambia. This was reiterated by Likando Kaluluka SC, the former Attorney General of Zambia, who further indicated his desire to ensure accessibility of the criminal justice system for persons with disabilities in Zambia.
The Disability Rights Unit expresses sincere thanks to the organisers and the participants of this workshop. This study was made possible by the support of the Ford Foundation, and the participation of all the individuals, government departments and disabled peoples’ organisations that took part in the study. We also wish to thank the researcher, Mr Victor Mukupa, for his hard work towards the completion of the study.
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