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The case came to the Supreme Court by way of appeal from the High Court. The two appellants were inmates at Lusaka Central Prison. It turned out that the appellants were HIV positive and were on Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART). The medical condition and treatment required that they be provided with food of a balanced diet in line with their medical condition.

The prison authorities, however, only provided limited quantities of maize sump for breakfast; maize meal (nshima) with dry sardines for lunch and super.2 The food was often rotten and contained foreign particles. Not only was it of of poor quality but was given in inadequate quantities

Having found themselves in this situation, the appellants petitioned the High Court seeking redress. It should be mentioned at this stage that the Zambian constitution has a justiciable Bill of Rights, which, however, only incorporates civil and political rights, such as the right to life, personal liberty, freedom of assembly, expression and association as well as religious freedom. At the time the case commenced, the economic and social rights were included in the constitution as ‘principles of state policy’ but were expressly not justiciable.

Considering this status of economic and social rights in the consitution, the appellants could not make a claim directly based on any violation of the economic and social rights. Any claim for redress had to fit the existing human rights framework. The petitioners, therefore, claimed that the failure of prison authorities to provide them with adequate and nutritious food, inter alia, violated their rights to life, and protection from inhuman and degrading treatment as enshrined in the constitution.