Phiri v People (HJA 9 of 1991) [1991] ZMHC 5 (1 April 1991)




2ND APRILl, 1991.

CASE NO. HJA/09/1991


Appeal - Against conviction and sentence - When the state does not support conviction in the appellate court


The appellant was convicted on charges of forgery, uttering and attempting to obtain money by false pretences. He was sentenced to two years' imprisonment with hard labour on the first count and twelve months imprisonment with hard labour on the second and third counts. These sentences were ordered to run concurrently. The appellant appealed against both conviction and sentence.


(i) When the State does not support conviction in the appellate court the appellate court will normally acquit unless the conviction appears to the appellate court to be compelling or plain and obvious

For the Appellant: Mr. F. B. Nanguzgambo, Assistant Senior Legal Aid Counsel

For the Respondent: Mr. E.N. Chaambwa, Assistant Senior State Advocate



KAKUSA T.,J: delivered the judgment of the court.

David Phiri ("the appellant") was tried on three counts by the Senior Resident Magistrate sitting at Chipata and convicted on all the three counts. He was sentenced to two years' imprisonment with hard labour on the first count and twelve months imprisonment with hard labour on the second and third counts. These sentences were ordered to run concurrently. The appellant now appeals against both conviction and sentence. The three counts were as follows. Forgery, contrary to sections 344 (a) (b) and 347 of the Penal Code, Cap 146. Particulars alleged that : the appellant, on the date unknown but between the 16th and 27th days of November, 1989 at Chipata being a person employed by Eastern Co-operative Union Limited., in his capacity as Personnel Officer, with intent to defraud did forge an official document namely TRIP ADVANCE Form purporting to show that it was authorised in the sum of K6000.00. The second count was; altering, contrary to section 352 of the Penal Code, Cap 146 Particulars were that the appellant altered the said form (between the dates stated in count one) the Eastern Co-operative Union Accounts section. The 3rd count was attempting to obtain money by false pretences, contrary to section 309 of the Penal Code Cap 146. Particulars were that between the date given in count one, the appellant did attempt to obtain K10,000.00 from Eastern Co-operative Union Ltd by falsely pretending that appellant's TRIP ADVANCE FORM was authorised in the sum of K16000.00, yet the said trip advance form was authorised in the sum of K6000.00.

The appellant filed five grounds of appeal, all attacking conviction. No ground was filed against sentence although he appeals against sentence as well. There was no viva voce attack on sentence when the appeal was heard.

Before learned counsel for the appellant argued the appeal the learned State Advocate indicated that the state did not support conviction on all the three counts. This was indeed a proper course to take when the prosecution feels that the appeal has merits. As regards counts two and three, the stand taken by learned Assistant Senior State Advocate, Mr. E. N. Chaambwa, came as no surprise to this court. The court requested learned counsel for the appellant to argue count one only and also invited the learned State Advocate to very briefly outline on court one why he did not support conviction. Submissions by both Counsel have been appreciated by the court.

On behalf of the appellant, the five grounds filed were not argued in the order as filed as this was not necessary: They were treated as consolidated: The gist of appellant's argument is this. Although the appellant admitted that he altered the Trip Advance Form, the admission was aquivocal; it denied guilt; the appellant gave a reason for the alteration, he said he altered the form in order to have sufficient funds for appellant 's trip to Siavonga and sufficient funds to purchase T. Shirts for use in the Eastern Co-operative Union Ltd. That there is evidence on record which the court below ought to have believed that a Senior person to the appellant and probably others were aware of the reasons for appellant's action on this form. From the same reasoning it was admitted that appellant had nothing to benefit personally from these funds. There was no forgery and there can be no forgery unless one meant to defraud another party which is not the case here. The role played by the employer has been attacked especially with reference to the events in counts two and three where the employer allowed, knowingly, the purported offences to be allegedly competed.

The learned State Advocate on count one submitted thus: evidence on this court is contradictory; he was not sure what role PW 1 played because count one is said to have been committed in November, 1989 where as PW 1 was appointed on 12th December, 1989. There was inconclusive evidence as to who altered the Trip Advance Form and the evidence from the handwriting expert appeared shaky - "He was at pains" to try and find the author. There was doubt as to whether the appellant did not inform some of his seniors of appellant's intention to purchase T-shirts.

On 22nd February, 1991 the appellant was informed that he was acquitted on counts two and three. The reasons for the acquittal on these counts are simply these. For the sake of brevity, we shall refer to (E.C.U. Ltd.) Eastern Co-operative Union Ltd, as "appellant's employers." As soon as appellant's employers thought the Trip Advance Form was forged or altered without their authority, instead of raising a query they feigned ignorance and allowed the said form to be processed further and allowed the cheque in the sum of K16000.00 to be issued and signed by the authorised signatories. All these other events were by or with the knowledge of appellant's employers. For the sake of this point, even assuming it is the appellant who altered this form, he was thereafter away from the station. He took no further steps beyond altering the said form. He could not have alttered it let alone attempt to obtain money. This explains the somewhat strange detail that the appellant altered the form to the accounts section. The framers of the charge had no tangible evidence of any purported alterance - actual or constructive. Although I will continue to refer the Trip Advance Form by its full name or title, this form was produced in evidence as exhibit P3. Further, the cheque was in fact issued by appellant's employers who knew that the cheque was not supposed to be issued because they had not authorised it. Appellant's employers knowingly or deliberately carried out the final stages in order "to complete" a transaction they considered to be an offence. These two counts require no detailed reasons suffice to say as soon as appellant employers saw what they considered to be an irregularity on the Trip Advance Form (exhibit P3) they were supposed to deal with that irregularity instead of aiding and abetting or facilitating further purported offence to a point of issuing a cheque for the sole purpose of providing evidence. Although these other actions may be deprecated, even in somewhat strong terms a (g') these should not colour what is to be properly considered. Appellant's employers' action were set in motion by the surfacing of the Trip Advance Form. There is certainly a lot to be said on this form. The employers share no blame on the creation of this Trip Advance Form. We may proceed to count one.

As regards count one, the matters are not complex. The appellant was an employer of Eastern Co-operative Union Ltd. As a Personnel Officer. He was to go on a trip to Siavonga on duty. He was entitled to funds on the trip to cover actual expenses and incidentals. The evidence of PW 2 is brief and clear. For the trip, the actual cost was K2500.00, for incidentals PW 2 says: "I made a provision for another K3,500.00 to make it K600.00, a trip Advance Form was prepared for this amount." As can be seen, the form read K6000.00 when prepared. PW 2 says:

"The figure K6000.00 was changed to K16000.00 by the accused."

The first question is who altered this form to read K16000.00 from K6000.00? Just on this, it has been suggested that evidence is contradictory; the hand writing expert is not very positive; we are not sure as to who made the alteration and that what the appellant said is equivocal. May be a lot more can be said on it without merit. I say all these arguments cannot have merit because the appellant himself agrees he altered the form, the Trip Advance Form. He does not stop there. He says or gives a reason for the alteration he made. The appellant told PW 1, PW 2, and everybody really, including the court below, that he altered the form in order to have funds to enable the appellant "purchase T-shirts" for board members. Appellant says these T.shirts have since been purchased. There is simply no question as to who altered the form. The writing or the alteration is not a disputed matter. The dispute relates to something else.

Appellant's employers of all witnesses called by the prosecution maintain that there was no authority to purchase T-shirts. Ground five filed by the appellant reads as follows:

"That the appellant had in the circumstances offered a very plausible explanation as to what happened as he should have been believed and acquitted accordingly."

Grounds 1.2.3. and 4, which were, in any event not pursued because they were not relevant relating to: alleged contradictory evidence; that the ingredients of the offences were not proved; that the appellant's evidence and submissions were not considered, and that the totality of the weight of the evidence was against the finding of guilty. These matters may have a bearing on counts two and three which are already dealt with and upon which the appellant was not called upon to argue. Ground five quoted above is relevant to count one. This was well argued. Agreed, T-shirts were required by appellant's employers and these have since been bought. But proof that T-shirts were required is not the same thing as saying the appellant had authority to alter the Trip Advance From. One sees no conflict or difficulties; PW" is on record that the approved amount was K6000.00 and not K16000.00. The accused in his defence party said:

".............. The other Trip Advance Form for K16000.00 was left with the cashier Mr. Phiri for processing.. The amount included K8000.00 for T-shirt. This was as a result of persistent demand for T-shirt by Board of Directors made to the farm directors. The Personnel Manager was accordingly informed........".

These quoted words are the relevant words which the appellant submits after a plausible explanation as to why he altered the Trip Advance Form. This explanation, if it is an explanation at all, is far from being plausible. The Personnel Manager alluded to by the appellant is PW 2 who says only K6000.00 was authorised for appellant'sTrip. Appellant's own figures for not telling a full story. If he altered the figure to read K16000.00 for the purported reason of T-shirts, then, what we have is this: K6000.00 was for the trip, K8000.00 was for the alleged T-shirts; we end up with an excess of K2000.00 unexplained. I will comment further on this K2000.00.

When the State does not support conviction in the appellate court the appellate court will normally acquit unless the conviction appears to the appellate court to be compelling or plain and obvious - the conviction ought to be inescapable. As here, the approving officer was actually PW 2. This witness says on page 5 of the record under cross examination:-

"I approved the cheque for K6000.00."

There can be nothing said clearer than that, The cost of the trip was K2500:00 but PW 2 says

"I made a provision for another K35000.00 to make it K6000.00"

PW 2 does not employ impersonal pronouns or speak in vague terms like K6000.00 was approved" - " he says "I approved...This court believe and accepts that PW 2 approved only K6000.00 for appellant's trip which sum of money covered the actual cost of the trip and incidentals. The figure for incidentals was equally reasonable. This conclusion is inescapable. The appellant did not inform PW 2 that he intended to purchase T-shirts. The explanation of T-shirts surfaced for the first time when the accused was queried over the alteration. Needless to say, the appellant had to offer an explanation for the alteration.

Put differently, ground 5 filed by appellant expressly confirms that the appellant altered the Trip Advance Form for the reason he claims. This form, the Trip Advance Form is before court as exhibit P3. This form was altered not once but in more than 4 parts. The appellant was going to Siavonga for a seminar for a period of only 8 days. This was altered to read 18 days. For accommodation the round figure was approved at K4000.00. This was altered to read K14000.00. There is another - entry shown as "Token for Mr. Enockson K2000.00." These figures add up to K16000.00 as the sum of money approved. If this Mr. Enockson was mentioned by name, the T.shirt would have easily been entered on the form. It is not true that the appellant needed K14000.00 "for accommodation and meals" as entered in the form. By looking at this form, I do not see how the T-shirt explanation can be said to be plausible. If this is not forgery, examples of forgery will be hard to comeby.

By looking at the Trip Advance Form, the form was and is a forged document: it tells a lie about itself; the form is saying it is a Trip Advance Form approved in the sum of K16000.00 when this is in fact false. I need not quote authorities - in a nut shell that is what is understood as forgery. It has been submitted that the appellant did not intend to benefit from this alteration because the T-shirt, approved or not were for the employer's use. Well, Eastern Co-operative Union Ltd., is a well established organisation, that is certainly not the way it goes about purchasing goods for its use. The explanation that the appellant intended to purchase T-shirt is false. Appeal against conviction on count one is dismissed.

As I have already said, no ground of appeal was filed against sentence. There was no viva voce attack on sentence. This silence on sentence may be inadvertent. I will afford the appellant chance to address the court on sentence.

I thought there should be a post-script, a brief one: the charge in count one is framed as being contrary to sections 344 (a) (b) and 347 of the Penal Code, Cap 146. Section 347 is penal whereas section 344 has paragraph (a) which relates to the making of a document "purporting to be what in fact it is not", whereas paragraph (b) creates an offence for one who alters a document without authority........". The frames of charge should attempt to correctly identify the relevant paragraph; as here, it is plain that the offence was committed under paragraph (b) because the appellant altered the document without authority. Paragraph (a) is superfluous but not completely irrelevant because the document in question purport to be authority for K16000.00 when in fact not. Whatever comment one may care to make on the charge the fact is that the particulars are very clear, the appellant was not prejudiced in any way and conducted his defence without any prejudice.

The appellant will now address me on sentence.

Appeal dismissed


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