Malawi Law Society (MLS) members have elected PATRICK MPAKA as their president for the next two years, replacing Burton Mhango who did not seek re-election after serving one term. MLS conducted its election in High Court registries across the country because its members could not gather at one place as part of adherence to Covid-19 precautionary measures. Mpaka, who served as Mhango’s vice-president, triumphed after defeating Tadala Chinkwezule with 265 votes against 234. Our Staff writer MERCY MALIKWA spoke to Mpaka on his vision for MLS. Excerpt:
Having previously served the Law Society as vice-president, what new things have you brought to the presidency?
The main new thing happening to the legal profession at the moment is that we have a new piece of law. From January 1 2019, the profession is operating under a new and improved legal framework replacing a 1965 guideline.
My past two years as vice-president comes in handy as the profession continues to build a set of rules and regulations to better carry out the main underlying themes of the new Act of Parliament. We have also passed nine resolutions at once which requires strategic implementation. They include adoption of a 10-year-plan.
My experience as an immediate past vice-president will become handy executing these extensive changes agreed upon by the general membership of the Law Society.
One of the statutory objectives of the society is to protect and assist the public on all matters touching, ancillary or incidental to the law, how do you intend to carry out this objective?
This is indeed one of the most important objectives of the MLS. It finds expression among the fundamenatal principles of the Constitution of our country and underlines the public service aspects of the legal profession.
The law society has a special sub-committee that looks into this aspect. We will invigorate that committee. But it must also be understood that every time a legal practitioner takes on and performs any form of legal work he or she is performing a calling in the spirit of public service—no less a public service because it may incidentally be a means of livelihood.
So, the focus in our strategic plan is on ensuring that as many of our members are as professional as possible because the public interest will be best served if every time a member of the public deals with a lawyer they are assured of dependability of the service provided.
In the past two years when Malawi has had to have two presidential elections, we have witnessed the serious involvement of MLS on the political front. How do you envisage the role of the society in the political development of the country during your term?
MLS is an inevitable chip in our country’s democratic puzzle. If you look at section 12 of the Constitution and read it with section 64(d) of the Legal Practitioners Act you can see the connection. Since this country is premised on the rule of law, MLS as an institution or through its members will remain vigilant and involved in providing impartial and independent legal guidance to all manner of people including the political class.
In your pre-election policy statement you indicated that your leadership will, among others, prioritise attention to issues of mental health for members of the Bar as an urgent matter. How important is this aspect for the country’s legal system and the well-being of the members?
As you may be aware legal work can be complex and stressfull sometimes and different people have different ways of coping with such stress. In a recent paper, the Attorney General identified mental health as an emerging issue in the profession. It is important that this be looked into urgently because the clarity and quality of legal minds and advice is critical to sustaining a cohesive society premised on the rule of law which our country is.
Some lawyers continue to attract bad press for the profession due to their unethical conduct, for instance duping clients. How will you improve the professional and ethical standard of such practitioners?
I think this is largely a matter of perception than reality. If you look at the report of the Disciplinary Committee of the Law Society submitted at the Annual General Meeting on 26th March 2021, there has been a significant 33.8 percent reduction in the number of complaints against lawyers. Many lawyers are quite law abiding. Of course, law practice is an art beset with many perils but character, hardwork and uprightness remain sure of lasting recognition in the profession and many lawyers know this.
According to the records at the Law Society, since 2016, the total number of complaints registered annually against lawyers has been on the decline from 148 in 2017, 84 in 2017, 74 in 2019, 32 in 2020 and 17 this year. This must be seen against a growing number of lawyers-so the picture may not be as bad as has been painted.
In your acceptance speech, you highlighted that “wherever or whoever you are, if you cannot follow the law, it will be very difficult for us to be on your side”, would you please expound on this statement?
I thought itself explanatory. It’s my way of encouraging every citizen of whatever status in society to abide by the law because that is the sure standard with which we can all mutually and respectfully co-exist with one another.
Please share with us the immediate strategic plan of the MLS and your plan for achieving it?
At its Annual General Meeting last week the law society adopted a 10-year strategic plan. According to that plan 2021-2022 are years of reform and delivery in order to affirm and set standards under the new Act. That is our immediate strategic focus.