The legal fraternity yesterday gathered for a memorial of their fallen colleagues, but an emotional appeal for speedy justice stood as a stark reminder of how the legal system forgets justice seekers.
Speaking during the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal 2023 Memorial in Blantyre, Malawi Law Society (MLS) president Patrick Mpaka cited a case where former Malawi Electoral Commission chairperson the late Justice Maxon Mbendera directed a woman to him seeking justice on her land issues in 2015, but there has been no judgement to date.
Mpaka said it is not enough to celebrate lives of law professionals who died, but what the legal fraternity needs to address is challenges the Malawi justice system faces.
He noted that while most of the departed judges, magistrates, State and private practice lawyers tried their best to offer solutions to the problems, some court users continue to be denied access to justice in time due to judgements delays.
Said Mpaka: “We will always cher i sh their [departed legal practitioners] memories
and remember them for everything positive they have bequeathed us in the profession.
“But I think we should celebrate their lives whilst remembering everything they did in service to this great land while also searching ourselves for lasting solutions to our legal problems. And that way we will guarantee that their souls rest in eternal peace.”
The Malawi Judiciary has faced a barrage of criticism that it is the chief culprit in the stalling of cases in the courts by failing to set dates and assign judges or magistrates to preside over the cases.
But the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal and High Court of Malawi registrar Kondwani Banda told Weekend Nation in April this year that most times the public and other stakeholders have a wrong perception of how courts operate and end up judging the courts harshly.
Said Banda: “Delays to set dates and speedily complete some cases in the courts are a shared blame between parties and not the responsibility of the courts alone.
“Most cases also delay because of adjournments sought by both the defence and the prosecution team, but such delays are overlooked yet they form part of the litigation process.”
But earlier this year, Mpaka told members at its Annual General Meeting in Mangochi that when a MLS-Judiciary special task force started engaging judges directly at the High Court’s Commercial Division over delayed cases, the Judiciary protested and described MLS’ move as “interference with the independence of the Judiciary”.
But Banda insists that judges are working extra hard to dispose of some old cases, arguing that the judges continue to take on new cases despite being overwhelmed with previous ones.
In an attempt to clear the backlog of cases, Chief Justice Rizine Mzikamanda in May last year gave judges with outstanding judgements 90 days to clear them.
Banda said most of the judges delivered on the assignment.
On his part, Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda noted that each departed law professional was a guardian of justice, and their passing is a great loss to the legal profession.
There are 17 legal professionals from Judiciary and 38 lawyers both State and private practitioners who died between 2008 and 2023.
Some of the notable ones are Friday Makuta, SC (retired) and Lovemore Munlo SC (retired) who died in 2017 and 2021 respectively, Justices of Appeal (retired) Michael Mtegha, James Kalaile and Elton Singini who died in 2011, 2021 and 2022 in that order.
Others are former Director of Public Prosecutions, Ishmail Wadi, and former Anti-Corruption Bureau director general Alexius Nampota.