May 10, 2017
The Law Society of Upper Canada expresses grave concern about the arrest and detention of lawyer Oliver Holland in Zambia.
Oliver Holland is a lawyer at a UK-based law firm called Leigh Day. A solicitor in the international and group claims department, he works primarily on group actions against British multinational corporations where environmental damage has occurred. Currently, he is representing 1,800 Zambian villagers in a class action against the UK-based mining company Vedanta Resources plc and its Zambian subsidiary, Konkola Copper Mines (KCM). The lawsuit alleges that the companies, through their copper mining operations, are responsible for polluting the villagers’ water sources and farmland, as well as the resulting illness, death, and low crop yields.
According to reports, on January 10, 2017, Oliver Holland was arrested and taken into custody by Zambian authorities after meeting with his clients in their communities for the purposes of providing an update on their case. Mr. Holland reported that the arresting officers were driving a vehicle displaying the Konkola Copper Mines logo. He was initially charged under the Public Order Act, which prohibits meetings of more than three people without a police permit. This Act stems from colonial times and “is normally only used during election times by political parties”. Later, the charge was changed to “unlawful assembly” under the Penal Code Act. He was detained at the Chingola Central Police Station for four hours without access to a lawyer, food or water. Ultimately, after he agreed to accept the reduced offence of “conduct likely to cause a breach of peace”, a misdemeanour for which he paid a fine of ZMK50 ($5), he was released.
The Law Society is deeply concerned about the treatment of Oliver Holland. Given the nature of his work as a lawyer and the number of clients involved in the lawsuit, the only feasible way to keep his clients apprised is via group meetings involving 100-150 people. The charges, whether under the Public Order Act, Penal Code Act, or even the misdemeanour that he was ultimately forced to accept, were not grounded on an act or omission that could reasonably be considered criminal. They were thus improper and may have constituted an abuse of process.