The Judiciary says the Constitutional Court may deliver the much-awaited judgement on the disputed May 21 presidential election results by this December.
Registrar of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal and the High Court of Malawi Agnes Patemba said this in an interview on Friday.
She said the Judiciary’s projection that the case may be decided between November and December this year is based on active case management by the five-member panel of judges and lawyers for both the petitioners and the respondents.
Said Patemba: “As we had indicated last time, with this case we are looking at November-December [by a way of concluding it]. We still maintain that. We are hoping—all things being equal, if there will be no disturbances—that we should by then be done with this case.”
The panel of High Court judges handling the case comprises Healey Potani, Ivy Kamanga, DingiswayoMadise, Mike Tembo and RedsonKapindu.
The election dispute has caused unprecedented tension, demonstrations and violence in the country.
In the Constitutional Court case, presidential candidates in the May 21 Tripartite Elections SaulosChilima of UTM Party and Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) are jointly asking the court to nullify the presidential poll results. They are the first and second petitioners, respectively.
The two dragged the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to court after the electoral body declared President Peter Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)the winner in the elections. They allege that the poll results were fraught with irregularities and that the electoral process was mismanaged by MEC. By virtue of the law. Mutharika was added to the case as the first respondent, while MEC is the second respondent.
The Judiciary and observers noted that as the case began in the Constitutional Court, there were indicators that it would take months, or even over a year, to conclude.
However, lawyers trimmed the number of witnesses to be cross-examined and re-examined, to expedite the trial.
Said the registrar: “Under the law, the court has powers to limit cross-examination. So, the judges invoked that provision and have, indeed, limited the hours in which to cross-examine witnesses and they have also limited the cross-examination to only those issues in contention.”
She said equipment in court, from the Ministry of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology, is helping the court to produce court records on a daily basis.
Also attending court sessions are also helping to unpack issues raised in court which will inform decisions the judges will make, she added.
Patemba said: “So, by the time this case is coming to an end, it means every evidence will be available.The judges will then analyse and write the judgement right away.”
She saluted the five judges for committing themselves fully to the case. She pointed out that only one of the five judges is a resident of Lilongwe, while the rest have relocated to Lilongwe from Blantyre, Zomba and Mzuzu to focus on the case.
“The judges are working hard to ensure the case is concluded as soon as possible,” she added.
The Nation sought clarification on reports that special social media communication has facilitated case management issues between the court and the lawyers from both sides.
Patemba intoned: “You are right. We created a WhatsApp group for all the lawyers involved in this case. This was just to ensure speedy communication.
“Judges are not on that group; it’s only the registrars and the lawyers. We post reports on the group. If they have issues like wanting to make applications in court, they warn the others on the group in advance and everyone quickly picks this up; this is how the group has really helped in managing the case.”
Asked if the judges have received threats to their lives since the case started some three months ago, the registrar said the security breach occurred during the early days of the trial when some supporters attempted to pelt the judges with stones in the court premises.
“We have since sought protection from Malawi Defence Force soldiers. It’s so far, so good,” she enthused.
Lawyers we spoke to yesterday, who are involved in the case, said they could not predict when judgement on the case could be expected, but they all noted that proceedings were going on at a faster pace in court lately.
Attorney General KalekeniKaphale, who is MEC lawyer, responded: “I wouldn’t commit myself right now, except to say there is more speed [in the court case] now.”
Counsel Titus Mvalo, one of Chakwera’s lawyers, said: “The way we are going now, the pace has increased. I can only say the court has given directions on time to spend on cross-examination and that has really improved a lot the case’s pace.”
In a related interview monitored on TiuzeniZoona programme on the multi-award winner Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS), Patemba stressed that the case judgement will be based strictly on the evidence in court.
Parties to the case exchanged documents, including sworn affidavits and evidence, before hearing of the case commenced on July 29.