The Malawi Law Society (MLS) recently ushered in a new president, Mandala Mambulasa. In this interview, our reporter, Paida Mpaso wants to find out more about his vision and plans for MLS.
Congratulations on your election. But what new things is your committee bringing?
Thank you very much for your congratulatory message and if I may use this opportunity, to say the same to all persons in Malawi and beyond who have been sending their messages to me personally and the entire new executive committee. The ideas are not entirely new. They were debated on, but perhaps the debates were not concluded. We would want to pursue them further.
The first idea is that of fidelity or legal practitioner’s insurance indemnity fund. Some clients have lost property or funds due to legal practitioner’s misconduct. Where legal practitioners cannot make good of the same, clients are put to exceptional hardship. We would want clients to have recourse to such a fund having failed to recover their property or funds from legal practitioners through other mechanisms. The second idea we would like to explore is whether, in some cases, we can hold joint continuous legal professional development with judicial officers at subordinate court level.
In your acceptance speech, you said you will fight for passing of the Access to Information Bill, how important is it?
This Bill is extremely important because once passed into law, it would empower us the citizens to be able to demand information or records. It would also enhance accountability and transparency on the part of government and other agencies that hold public information.
It is our constitutional right to have access to information as citizens as provided for in our Constitution. Access to information is not limited to the media. The media are just some of the beneficiaries.
What are the challenges that have come in the absence of the Bill?
The main challenge has been that it has been difficult to assert and enforce this right in the absence of the enabling legal framework. As legal practitioners and citizens, we have a civic duty to ensure that our democracy is not derailed by any elements anywhere. We all have that sacrosanct obligation to ensure that there is rule of law, constitutionalism and that we hold free and fair tripartite elections in the country.
Your predecessor expressed concern about some lawyers’ unprofessional conduct, what do you intend to do about this?
My predecessor also mentioned that some of the complaints that the Malawi Law Society received were really a result of lack of clear communication between legal practitioners and their clients and that upon explaining to some of the complainants how the legal processes work, some of the complaints were resolved and others withdrawn. Admittedly, it does show that we have a problem if a client is going to get an explanation of how some legal process works from the chairperson of MLS.
However, for those cases of serious misconduct or criminality as my predecessor called them, the same shall be referred to the disciplinary committee of the Malawi Law Society. The Malawi Law Society shall also publish a list of licensed legal practitioners in the print media and the gazette and encourage the public to deal only with licensed legal practitioners. For those persons masquerading as legal practitioners, we shall report them to prosecuting authorities for prosecution as it is also a criminal offence to practise the profession of the law without being admitted to the Bar.
How should Malawians expect MLS to benefit them?
As I stated, the Malawi Law Society shall continue to speak out and guide the public on rule of law issues. We shall also continue to issue statements or press releases on any matter of public concern. We shall also work in partnership with civil society organisations and other stakeholders in the governance sector. We shall also be alert and where necessary join any public interest cases as amicus curiae (friends of the court) to ensure rule of law and constitutionalism.
In appropriate cases, we shall also challenge in court for conformity with the Constitution any unlawful, arbitrary or unconstitutional decisions or actions or omissions or laws. We shall also be vigilant and ensure that our members are not intimidated by any elements in our society for doing their work.