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Zambia Chapter 5C: Criminal Law and the Penal Code

Extracts from Countries of the World by Eugene K. Keefe (dated 1991, but it seems clear from the text that it has not been updated since about 1980)

The basic source of Zambian criminal law is the Penal Code, which is an integral part of the Laws of Zambia. It is a modification of the colonial penal code introduced by the British authorities in 1930. Modified and amended many times during the thirty-four years before independence, the code -- with some additions and deletions -- was incorporated into Zambian law in 1964. It is divided into two parts: Part I -- General Provisions -- deals with interpretation and application of the code, rules of criminal responsibility, and punishments; Part II -- Crimes -- is a listing and definition of all crimes covered by the code.

It is interesting to note that the code states that the "principles of English law" apply in Zambia's courts. For example, the burden of proof in a criminal trial rests on the government, proof beyond any reasonable doubt is required, and an accused person may not be placed in double jeopardy. Children under the age of eight cannot be charged with a crime. Juveniles between eight and eighteen may be charged, but punishment upon conviction is less severe than for adults. The number of juvenile offenders between the ages of eight and eleven brought to trial during 1974 was very small, and most were accused of some kind of theft.

Punishments are covered in detail in the code, and the range of penalties is carefully defined although the courts generally have some latitude in sentencing. Penalties include death by hanging, imprisonment with or without hard labor, corporal punishment (caning), fine, forfeiture of property, payment of compensation, and deportation. A conviction of murder carries with it a mandatory death sentence. Persons under the age of eighteen at the time of commission of a crime cannot be sentenced to death; pregnant women are also exempted from that penalty.

The code specifies the conditions under which corporal punishment may be imposed and prohibits its use in all other cases. Corporal punishment consists of whipping with a rod or cane in a manner approved by the minister of home affairs. The number of strokes must be specified as part of the sentence and cannot exceed twelve for a person under nineteen years of age or twenty-four for older persons. The code prohibits the caning of females, males over the age of forty-five, and males sentenced to death. When practicable, caning is inflicted in the presence of a professional medical officer who must certify in writing that the prisoner is medically fit to undergo corporal punishment. The code prohibits inflicting more than twelve strokes unless a medical officer is present. Medical officers also may halt a caning in progress, and authorities are not allowed to resume caning after it has been halted.

Incidence of Crime

In early 1979 the latest available statistics on crime were those covering calendar year 1974, published by the Zambian government in 1976. In presenting the annual report for 1974, the inspector general of police at that time, Fabiano Chela, stated that crimes against the Penal Code had been higher than during the previous year but that crimes against other laws had been somewhat lower. He also reported that juveniles had been involved in more crimes during 1974 than before. Offenses covered by the Penal Code were listed under eight general headings: Offenses Against Public Order; Offenses Against Lawful Authority; Offenses Injurious to the Public in General; Offenses Against the Person; Offenses Relating to Property; Malicious Injury to Property; Forgery, Coining, and Impersonation; and Offenses Relating to Corrupt Practices.


The next major heading, Offenses Injurious to the Public in General, included gross indecency, indecent assault on a female, rape, attempted rape, and drunk and disorderly conduct. Almost one-third of all arrests in 1974, whether for Penal Code offenses or for offenses under other laws, resulted from overindulgence in alcohol, and news accounts of police activities in 1978 indicated that if anything the problem had grown worse. Drunkenness has been a national problem in Zambia for several years, and political leaders, including President Kaunda, periodically decry the abuse of alcohol. Out of a total of almost 25,000 arrests made under this general category, more than 96 percent dealt with drunkenness. The vast majority of cases handled by the courts resulted in fines, but 444 men, 173 women, and eight juveniles were sent to prison on such charges in 1974.

Concerning the other crimes in this category, 437 reported cases of indecent assault on a female resulted in 270 arrests and 156 trials (fifty-two others awaited trial at the end of the year); 135 adults and four juveniles were sentenced to prison, one adult and thirteen juveniles were caned, five were fined, and one was remanded. Three had received dual sentences. Of 376 reported cases of rape, only eighty-one eventually reached trial; but of those, seventy-five defendants were sent to prison. Aside from crimes involving alcohol, it was impossible to tell whether other crimes in this general category had increased or decreased by the late 1970s.

Listed under the heading of Offenses Against the Person were the crimes of common assault, assault causing bodily harm, assault causing grievous bodily harm, manslaughter, murder, attempted murder, and unlawful wounding. Assault causing bodily harm accounted for the greatest number of arrests, which resulted in prison terms for 2,498 men, eighty-two women, and seventy-seven juveniles. Eighty-five men and 180 juveniles were caned under these charges, and more than 2,700 other persons paid fines.

The fifth general heading under Penal Code violations - Offenses Relating to Property - covered a long list of property crimes (fifteen in all) including burglary, robbery, illegal possession of diamonds, receiving stolen goods, and a wide variety of theft, such as motor vehicle, bicycle, stock, postal material, and theft in general. Almost 5,500 of the 15,437 arrests made under this heading were for common theft; ranking second in number of arrests was the subcategory listed as "stealing by clerks, servants, or agents." News accounts in the late 1970s gave the impression that the ranking of property crimes would be about the same but that the incidence had increased. In 1974 most adults convicted of property crimes were sent to prison; of 1,534 juveniles convicted of property offenses, only about one-third were sent to prison, and the remaining two-thirds were caned.

The crimes of arson, malicious damage, and threats to burn or destroy were under the general heading of Malicious Injury to Property. The incidence of arson was not considered serious, but cases were not dealt with lightly: ninety-one convictions resulted in seventy-two imprisonments. Malicious damage to property (vandalism) was common, and of about 500 convictions a few more defendants received prison sentences than fines. Forty juveniles were caned after being found guilty of malicious damage. There were no arrests for threats to burn or destroy during 1974. Accurate estimates concerning the extent of such crimes in 1978 were not available.

The seventh general heading under Penal Code crimes dealt with forgery, counterfeiting, and impersonation. The first two crimes accounted for most of the cases in this category, but of the few persons convicted of impersonation the majority were sent to prison, a general outcome of most rulings for adults in Zambian courts. Conviction of forgery resulted in prison terms for 184 men, two women, and seven juveniles in 1974, and twelve other juveniles were caned for the same offense. Conviction on charges of distributing counterfeit money sent 130 men, three women, and six juveniles to prison; twelve juveniles were caned for the same crime. The eighth and final general heading -- Offenses Relating to Corrupt Practices -- was not broken down into subcategories and accounted for only twenty-eight arrests during 1974.

In the category of Offenses Under Other Laws 12,474 arrests were made, and 11,889 convictions in court were secured. As opposed to violators of Penal Code crimes, however, persons convicted of breaking this wide variety of laws were much more frequently fined than imprisoned. Convictions for violations of the Dangerous Drug Act, for example, resulted in fines for 215 defendants, whereas only 100 received prison sentences on similar charges. For violations of the Animal Conservation Act, 372 persons were fined and 117 imprisoned. Of forty-six convictions under the Witchcraft Act, however, twenty-seven prison sentences resulted. This act followed the pattern established under colonial rule that defined not witchcraft but the accusing of others of witchcraft as an offense. Out of the total of 11,889 convictions for Offenses Under Other Laws, 888 men, 204 women, and thirty juveniles were imprisoned; the remainder were either caned (only twelve) or fined (the vast majority).

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