The Local Courts in Zambia stand at the bottom of the Judiciary hierarchy and are established by Article 120 (1) of Act No. 2 of 2016, Amended Zambian Constitution. The Local Courts in Zambia are not Courts of record, but by SubArticle (2) of Act No. 2 of 2016 Amended Constitution, Local Courts shall progressively become Courts of record.
The Local Courts of Zambia are the successors to the Native Courts which the British set up in Northern Rhodesia, as elsewhere in Colonial Africa, to administer justice to Africans. The system of Native Courts originally existed in parallel with the system of English style Magistrate Courts. The Local Courts st system in Zambia were born on 1 October, 1966, when the Native Courts system was abolished.
Act No. 29 of the Laws of Zambia was enacted on 1 October, 1966, to provide for the recognition and establishment of Local Courts, previously known as Native Courts, to amend and consolidate the law relating to the jurisdiction of and procedure to be adopted by Local Courts.
Structure of Local Courts
The Local Courts in Zambia are established according to Grades. Section 5 (1) of the Local Courts Act, Chapter 29 of the Laws of Zambia, states that; Local Courts shall be of such different grades as may be prescribed, and Local Courts of each grade shall exercise jurisdiction only within the limits prescribed for such grade. The Local Courts are divided into two grades, that is, Grade A and B. Grade A Local Court is presided over by a Principal Presiding Local Court Magistrate and two other Senior Local Court Magistrates
A Grade B Local Court is presided over by a Presiding Local Court Magistrate and one other Local Court Magistrate.
As of December, 2018, there were a total number of 184 Grade A Local Courts and 345 Grade B Local Courts, total 529 Local Court distributed Countrywide in all the ten (10) Provinces of Zambia.
Distribution of Local Courts in Zambia
Local Courts being Courts that interface with the most venerable members of the community, they are located in all remote and urban areas of the Country. In terms of access to justice, there are many Local Courts in Zambia as compared to all the superior Courts put together, mainly due to the demand by most community members to litigate through the Local Courts and further that Local Courts are less complicated to access as compared to superior Courts where mostly its by services of Lawyers
Recognition of Local Courts in Zambia
Recognition or establishment of Local Courts is done in accordance with Section 4 (1) of the Local Courts Act, Chapter 29 of the Laws of Zambia. The Chief Justice, by Court warrant under his hand, recognize or establish such Local Courts as he shall think fit and any such Court shall exercise such jurisdiction as may be conferred by or under the provisions of the Local Courts Act, within such territorial limits as be defined by such warrant.
Constitution of Local Courts and appointment of Adjudicators
In term of composition of the Court, a Local Court shall consist of a Presiding Magistrate either sitting alone or with such number of other members as may be prescribed by the Chief Justice in the Court warrant. Provided that a single Local Court Magistrate shall constitute the Court in the absence of the Presiding Magistrate.
The appointment of such Local Court Magistrates is done by the Judicial Service Commission for a period of three (3) years renewable contracts or on permanent and pensionable establishment as the case may be. The appointments are based on academic qualifications and candidates are selected from among members of the community familiar with the traditions, customs and culture of a particular area.
Jurisdiction of Local Courts
In terms of Laws that the Local Courts in Zambia are mandated to administer, Section 12 (1) of the Local Courts Act, Chapter 29 of the Laws of Zambia, spells out such Laws as follows; Subject to the provision of the Local Courts Act, Chapter 29 of the Laws of Zambia, a Local Court shall administer.
- The African customary law applicable to any matter before it in so far as such law is not repugnant to natural justice or morality or incompatible with the provision of written law.
- The provisions of all by-laws and regulations made under the provisions of the Local Government Act and in force in the area of jurisdiction of such Local Courts, and
- The provisions of any written law which such Local Court is authorized to administer under the provisions of Section thirteen.
Local Court may also handle minor criminal cases, tort and simple contracts as may be directed by the Chief Justice.