Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda was yesterday forced to rescue the winding process of the Written Laws Miscellaneous Amendments Bill as religious sentiments took centre stage and posed the danger of halting the law enactment process.
On a rare occasion the National Assembly looked clearly divided on grounds of faith as the debate intensified concerning the proposed amendments. Attorney General Fredrick Werema tabled the bill specifically on the need for more powers to magistrates and judges over court assessors on deciding over customary law issues which at times fall under religious edicts especially in Islam.
The proposed amendments were based on the view that there was no need for putting more powers in the hands of assessors while there are graduate magistrates who have knowledge on the various matters including customary law and religious edicts regardless of their faith.
“I do not see the importance of the magistrate being compelled to decide based on the assessors’ position, as the magistrate may demand to know how assessors would know more on the matter while he has attended law school, unlike them,” noted the AG.
As the heated debate went on with no sign of any side relenting, the Prime Minister decided to intervene.
“The way you want to put this matter it may look as if it is a big issue. We should not go further with this unhealthy argument. Let the AG look into it keenly and have section reads as it was before,” he said.
Pinda affirmed that he did not see any reason for arguments since the court assessors were very important in reaching proper decision by the magistrates and judges on customary law aspects which touch Islamic edicts.
“As the law currently stipulates the magistrate is compelled to abide to assessors where many concur in the decision, and this make sense because most of them have knowledge on customary matters.”
It is upon the AG now to decide that the section remains as it was previously or provide time for the government to look into the matter and come up with fresh proposals, he declared.
The bill touched the Magistrate’s Courts Act, chapter 11 of the laws of Tanzania.
But when the AG was told to conclude on that specific item he said he decided to scrap off the entire proposed Section 9, so there would be no amendments on the matter.
Earlier on Kisarawe MP Suleman Jafo (CCM) had queried the AG why he was adamant on powers of assessors while they know better customary law and religious edicts but the AG said he would rather accommodate proposals by Dr Khamis Kigwangala (Nzega-CCM) who proposed slight changes.
But then Stella Manyanya, Special Seats (CCM) warned the House that the proposed amendments were dangerous and risky to the country’s peace. If they are accepted they would lead to other religions and denominations to campaign for their edicts to be accommodated into the laws.
She was concurred by Kasulu Urban MP (NCCR-Mageuzi) Moses Machali and John Cheyo (Bariadi East - UDP) who warned that it was untimely to have such amendments.
“This is very dangerous to the country if we accept this today next time the Roman Catholics and other denominations such as Buddhists and Hindus shall seek their religious edicts to be taken on board. It will total chaos,” noted Machali.
But that was not the end of debate as the Rajab Mbarouk Mohamed (Ole-CUF) said he wanted people who know about the hadith (recorded decisions) of the Prophet Muhammad to have more power to decide on customary matters.
He was supported by Mohamed Missanga (Singida West-CCM) who strongly argued for more powers to assessors as the current law requires.
Among other key decisions on the Magistrates Courts Act by the House was that Kiswahili will still be the compulsory language to enable common people to address themselves freely in the courts. The AG had proposed that there should be alternative use of Kiswahili and English.