Labour law experts have faulted the shortage of staff and lack of accountability in courts, saying it is delaying the wheels of justice, particularly at the Industrial Relations Court (IRC).
They were reacting to reports of a backlog of about 10 000 cases at the IRC’s three registries of Blantyre, Lilongwe, and Mzuzu.
Following the removal of employer and employee panellists at the IRC last year, the task of determining the cases in the three registries has now been left with the court’s chairperson and his three deputies.
In his reaction, labour law expert Mauya Msuku recommended a review of the law to allow summary applications at the IRC and also empower the registrar to hear and make determinations on cases.
He said: “The registrar is a fully qualified lawyer and should be allowed to conduct other duties rather than administrative stuff. In addition, just like the High Court, summary applications should also be allowed at the IRC, so that the chairperson should be able to conclude straightforward cases without going through pre-hearing sessions.”
Lawyer Allan Hans Muhome, who has written books on labour law, faulted the previous system that required the use of employer and employee panellists. He said the system delayed handling of cases.
He said: “The use of panellists led to the delay in hearing and determining of cases because they used to give excuses. The new system inherited a backlog of cases from years back but we will soon start to see the results.”
On the other hand, Institute of People Management Malawi (IPMM) immediate-past president Michael Ndaferankhande faulted the lack of accountability on the part of the court for case delays.
He said: “The courts are not accountable to anybody, they work at their own pace. They need to be given targets, for example, how many cases they must handle in a week, month or year.”
While suggesting an increase in the number of deputy chairpersons to help in handling the industrial-related cases, Ndaferankhande called on the current IRC chairperson Austin Msowoya to work hard to ensure that Malawians get the justice they deserve.
High Court of Malawi registrar Kondwani Banda conceded that failure to conclude cases in time interferes with people’s rights to justice.
“It is, however, important to note that the Judiciary is doing whatever it can by involving all stakeholders in the labour and employment sector in coming up with several strategies to bring these problems to an end,” he said.
Banda said, for instance, there has been a change in legislation, resulting in the removal of panellists in the court structure.
“There is also an initiative to increase staff levels. To achieve this, the Judiciary also carried out a functional review that has resulted in creating more posts that once filled, will reduce the shortage of both support staff and Judicial officers,” he said.
The IRC stopped using the employer and employee panellists after Parliament passed the Industrial Relations Amendment Bill in July last year which removed the requirement of employer and employee panellists.