President Lazarus Chakwera has assented to the Courts Act (Amendment) Bill which, among other things, proposes adjusting upwards the retirement age for judges from 65 to 70.
The President has also signed into law the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code (Amendment) Bill to empower some magistrate’s courts to give increased fines for certain offences, according to a statement from State House Press Office.
The amendment also eliminates a fourth-grade magistrate’s court in the Courts Act.
Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo tabled the Bills in July, saying extending the retirement age of judges from 65 to 70 would ensure that courts have enough judges to handle cases both in the ordinary courts and the new Financial Crimes Division.
He noted that there were outcries on the shortage of judges and said the adjustment in retirement age would help to address the high caseloads.
In an interview yesterday on the signing into law of the Bills, Catholic University of Malawi dean of the Faculty of Law John-Gift Mwakhwawa said Malawi was losing out as most of the judges were retiring while still energetic.
He said: “Some have gone ahead to work in other countries while some have served as arbitrators. People at 70 still have a lot to give.”
Mwakhwawa, a former Malawi Law Society (MLS) president, cited the United States where judges serve for a lifetime.
Before the passage of the law, only magistrates could retire at 70.
Mwakhwawa brushed aside arguments that allowing judges to stay longer would deny the youth opportunities, saying: “That argument doesn’t hold. As a country, we need to move to where we would have High Courts, Anti-Corruption Bureau [ACB] offices, Director of Public Prosecutions [DPP] chambers and Legal Aid Bureau in every district. That’s a lot of opportunities, isn’t it?”
However, other sections of the society expressed reservations on the adjustment of the retirement age of the judges, arguing the increase in the retirement age would hurt the young people of Malawi.
Zomba Malosa legislator Grace Kwelepeta is on record as having said that the approach to only adjust the retirement age for the Judiciary was selective as citizens would benefit from the services of many other professions in the civil service if the retirement age was revised across the board.
The establishment of the High Court of Malawi Financial Crimes Division alongside the amendment to the Corrupt Practices Act (CPA) have been touted as key to expediting financial crimes cases, including corruption.
Mvalo said the amendments will complement Section 42 of the CPA, which the House passed in July 2022, giving power to the ACB director to take cases to court without seeking consent from the DPP.
He said: “For ACB to conclude cases on time, Parliament made amendments to Section 42 of the Corrupt Practices Act. It is in the same spirit that we consider the establishment of a Special Court on Financial Crimes that will also be handling corruption cases with an aim of expediting such cases.”