‘Leading MLS is challenging’

Delegates to a two-day Malawi Law Society (MLS) annual conference and general meeting held in Mangochi last weekend elected 38-year-old Burton Chigondongo Mhango as the new president for the next two years. Mhango—a young brother to former Attorney General Charles Mhango—served as the society’s treasurer in the previous committee. He takes over leadership responsibility at a challenging time when the issue of lawyers’ misconduct is still purportedly high. In this interview our News Analyst LUCKY MKANDAWIRE engages Mhango on his election, vision and other issues affecting the esteemed institution.

What was your immediate reaction after it was announced that you had beaten your sole challenger by 148 votes to 128?

Firstly, let me thank you for having me here. I would like also to acknowledge the remarkable support that we received from our innumerable sponsors for the Annual General Meeting and all those that participated.

Coming back to your question I would say, my immediate reaction was a call for unity in our beloved society. I immediately reached out to my learned colleague against whom I competed so that we could find common ground among our members for all of us to work together during these two years. While I welcomed the result, I must admit that I also sensed immense responsibility instantly falling on my shoulders. It is quite challenging.

You are relatively young, did you ever imagine that one day you would head MLS?

Yes. I always saw myself becoming president of MLS at some point. I have been part and parcel of the leadership of the society since I was admitted to the bar 9 years ago. I previously served in the capacity of Executive Committee member for three years before assuming the responsibilities of treasurer in 2018. I must, however, say that it is quite an onerous responsibility that I have assumed. MLS has huge mandate under the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act on regulation of the legal profession and on governance. I know that we have very senior citizens who are lawyers and who look up to me for responsible leadership as I, together with my executive committee, embark on carrying out our mandate under the law on behalf of our learned members. I will always engage them.

At the time of your election, MLS had 271 active complaints against lawyers. This is quite alarming considering that there are only about 600 registered practitioners, how do you intend to ensure that issues of lawyers’ misconduct are phased out?

The figures you have mentioned can sometimes paint a very disconsolate depiction of the learned occupation. It is not quite like that. I would like to state at the outset that the profession has got more among its members who conduct their business in exceedingly professional and ethical fashion than the isolated few who go awry.  As a society, we have only been generous with the information with the regard to the figures you are talking about. The figure that you have mentioned only represents the number of queries that may have been lodged with MLS Secretariat. Some of such queries in the end do not really turn out to be real issues of misconduct or unprofessionalism.

However, let me assure you that I will effectively implement the new law with zero tolerance to issues of misconduct. Our members are now aware that the new Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act has introduced stringent measures to be taken against members who conduct themselves unprofessionally. We plan to organise numerous continuing professional development courses for our members to be comprehensively accomplish what is demanded of them.

But how far has MLS acted on issues raised last year by Judge President Esmie Chombo of endemic corruption and unprofessionalism within the legal system to the extent that some lawyers pay court staff to misplace or destroy files to frustrate case proceedings?

MLS leadership at the time did its part. We engaged with the concerned Judge [President] and the Judiciary to investigate the allegations that were raised. A number of interventions were done in the High Court Registries with a view to ending the problems that were raised. It is pertinent to footnote, that even though the perception was that the allegations were only directed at lawyers, there were a number of other key stakeholders that were directly concerned with the issues raised especially regarding allegations of corruption. MLS held meetings with the Chief Justice and other relevant court officials on the matter. A call was made to the generaly public to report to the ACB [Anti-Corruption Bureau] any instances of corruption. Currently, MLS is also part of the consortium of NGOs [non-governmental organisations] looking into corruption cases in Malawi. In short MLS remains resolute and engaged to stump out all elements of unjustified enticement among our members.

What would you say as regards allegation that indiscipline within the legal profession cannot be controlled because of a tendency to shield suspected offenders?

MLS has no deliberate policy to shield any members of the legal profession on matters of discipline. There are procedures that are followed when a complaint is lodged with MLS. Our role as a regulatory body is to make sure that all procedures are followed and appropriate action is taken against any members who may be found in the wrong. n

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