THE Zambia Law Development Commission (ZLDC) has recommended for the repeal of the 1955 Public Order Act (POA), with a name change and reduction in the number of notice days prior to a public gathering or procession.
ZLDC said the law should now be called the Public Gatherings Act, implemented by the police as permit authorizing entity and with a notice five days prior as opposed to seven to request for a public gathering.
Proposed exempts from permit requirement are the; republican president, their vice, ministers, members of parliament, councilors, mayors | and council secretaries, with proposed gathering exempts being weddings and funerals.
“It is recommended that the authorizing officer should be obliged to maintain a register of notices which should be available for inspection by members of the public during working hours. Further, the register should be incorporated in the schedule of the Bill and not left to the minister’s discretion,” the commission said.
This is according to the commission’s project report on reviewing the Act and draft public gatherings Bill presented to Home Affairs and Internal Security Minister Jack Mwiimbu in Lusaka yesterday.
The commission recommended that for administrative measures to be expedited in the hearing of grievances and in the interest of impartiality, an appeal by an aggrieved party should be registered before a resident district magistrate as opposed to a home affairs minister.
It said the appeal should be registered within 24 hours of the refusal by an authorizing officer to grant a permit and heard 48 hours of being filed.
“In case of dissatisfaction within the decision of the magistrate, the appeal should follow the same channel as any matter which graces the subordinate court but within a stipulated timeframe,” it said.
The commission also proposed that the new law repeals the offence related to the singing of the national anthem as the National Anthem Act empowered the president to prescribe occasions upon which the anthem could be sung.
ZLDC chairperson Ruth Chibbabbuka said the proposed legislation sought to enhance citizens’ constitutionally enshrined fundamental rights to freedom, expression, association and assembly.
Ms Justice Chibbabbuka said POA was part of the colonial legacy that had a strong history of being used as a tool for suppressing the enjoyment of the fundamental rights and freedoms.
“The Commission has appreciated the desire to remove archaic provisions, which were resonant of a colonial legacy from the Public Order Act and develop a law that reflects the social and political values of the Zambian Society,” Ms Justice Chibbabbuka said in remarks rendered on her behalf by ZLDC Vice-Chairperson Munukayungwa Munyima.
Mr Mwiimbu called for a mindset shift among police officers to relate to the new way under which the law would be applied.
He said through the reform, the Government had demonstrated a resolve towards undertaking legal reforms that were aimed at enhancing the rule of law in the country.
“The review of the Public Order Act and replace it with the proposed Public Gathering Act, will facilitate the enjoyment of the fundamental freedom of assembly and association which the country is known for,” Mr Mwiimbu said.
Separately, Justice Minister Mulambo Haimbe said the law’s repeal was in line with modern day democratic and good governance tenets.
Mr Haimbe said the reform fulfilled the Government’s promise of protecting democracy, human rights and Constitutionalism.
He said the Government was amending some of old laws not responsive to modern legal standards and his office, working closely with Mr Mwiimbu’s, would ensure that the Public Gathering Bill, 2023 was approved by Cabinet for possible enactment by Parliament