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Prisoners' victory opens door to rights-based suits

Publish date: 20 January 2020
Issue Number: 856
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Category: Litigation

Two HIV+ prisoners held in the Lusaka Central Prison, Zambia, have won a case against the prison authorities that could have widespread repercussions for other prisoners and for rights-based litigation more broadly. They claimed their rights to life and to dignity were infringed by conditions in the cells. In response, Zambia's highest court has ordered the government to ensure they are provided with a balanced diet and access to the medicine and treatment they need given their condition. They must also be housed in cells that are neither a health risk, nor in such a condition that they constitute inhuman and degrading treatment or additional punishment. The court has further ordered that the prison authorities must provide the courts with regular updates on what has been achieved by way of reducing overcrowding and improving conditions in the cells. Carmel Rickard, in her A Matter of Justice column on the Legalbrief site, writes that apart from its important orders related to prison conditions, the judgment is also crucial from a legal perspective: the High Court had found that though the prisoners had proved the terrible conditions under which they were housed, there was nothing the courts could do about the situation as the rights infringed were not justiciable. The Supreme Court overturned that finding, leaving the way open for other challenges on issues previously thought out of bounds for the judiciary.

Judgment

A Matter of Justice