One of the issues Agnes Patemba addresses is the high rate of gender-based violence (GBV) in Malawi.
She does that through the courtroom and never holds back when it comes to sentencing these crimes.
“As a nation, we have made some strides regarding the enactment of the law to curb GBV. However, we still need to accelerate the implementation of the same by looking at both sides of the divide than mostly portraying this predicament as if it is only women who suffer from GBV,” she said.
Agnes is a lawyer who rose through the judicial ranks to become High Court Judge.
She reflects on one of her high profile cases where she sentenced five defilers to 67 years imprisonment with hard labour each.
“The provisions in the law prompted me to arrive at that decision. The law provides for life imprisonment as a maximum sentence for defilement. I analysed some of the cases and noted the sentences we were imposing were not even coming closer to the intention of the Legislature.
“The fact that Parliament imposed life imprisonment as a maximum sentence portrayed the seriousness of the offence and the courts should implement it. I noted the courts have been shy from imposing stiffer penalties which is contrary to the law,” she said.
The judge observed that GBV cases are rampart and she thinks the courts can do better to protect girls.
Her idea of protecting the girls was to incarcerate perpetrators for longer periods of time.
However, when she was young, Agnes dreamed of becoming an economist, but wasn’t very good at mathematics.
While in Form Three, she was good at history and some friends started calling her ‘lawyer’ because they associated history with law.
That motivated her to think of pursuing a career in law.
Through her work, Agnes addresses other issues and challenges such as marriage, financial matters, criminal cases and labour or employment conflicts.
For her, these challenges are important in two ways as they have been significant to her career as she has applied her academic knowledge from law school.
In another way, she said by virtue of these challenges being known through courts, judicial officers have helped individuals and groups whose rights have been violated differently.
“In every society, people disagree because we don’t think and act alike. As you would agree with me, societal conflict is inevitable due to conflicting social values which in the end, need to be settled by the courts,” she said.
Agnes was born second in a family of eight: three boys and five girls.
She grew up selling paraffin, sugarcane and boiled sweet potatoes in Kawale Township, Lilongwe.
She is married to Joseph Patemba and they have two daughters, Marie-José and Marceline.
“With everything I went through, I told myself poverty was for my parents and that I would not live that kind of life again,” she said.
From Likuni Girls Secondary School, she was selected to Chancellor College to pursue a bachelor’s degree in education humanities.
After her first year, she applied for law and in 2004; she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in law.
Agnes immediately joined the Judiciary as a magistrate in Lilongwe.
She was transferred to Mzuzu High Court as assistant registrar in May 2005.
And in 2009, she was transferred to the Industrial Relations Court on the same position.
She holds a master’s degree in women’s law from the University of Zimbabwe in 2014.
In 2012, she was transferred to Blantyre High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal as assistant registrar.
And in March 2015, she was appointed chief resident magistrate for the eastern region.
In February 2017, she was appointed deputy registrar of the High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal.
In the same year, Agnes was appointed registrar of the Malawi Judiciary.
Talking about the journey to becoming a High Court Judge and deputy High Commissioner to the UK later, she explained that the process involved applying to the Judicial Service Commission following an advert.
“The commission shortlisted names of people who would undergo the vetting process with different governance institutions, such as the Malawi Law Society, Ministry of Justice and the Law Commission.”
“The names were later submitted to the State President and I was appointed High Court Judge on October 20 2020. And on June 16 2021, I was appointed deputy High Commissioner to the UK.
“There are better qualified Malawians out there who could have been entrusted with these positions, but God favoured and allowed me to hold these positions. I believe it was all done for a good reason,” she said.
Agnes is passionate about speedy court trials and delivery of judgments, knowing that people mostly use the courts as a last resort to challenges they face.
“When I sit in court, I do not only look at files, but also lives of people behind those files. I realise that most of them depend on court outcomes; hence, the need to deal with their issues with expediency,” she said.
Her greatest achievements include the rehabilitation of district courts, functional review for the Judiciary and serving in the office of the registrar.
“As a registrar, I secured 28 Toyota Prados for judges which had been pending for over four years. I also facilitated the procurement of vehicles for district courts which had no vehicles before I came in as a registrar. I am proud of achieving this,” she said.
Besides her work, Agnes also works with the Student Christian Organisation of Malawi (Scom).
“Its objective is to call all students to a personal faith in Jesus Christ. I am a product of Scom and it made me who I am today. I enjoy serving in this organisation because it targets the youth. Once a young person knows Jesus at a tender age, they are likely going to walk with Him and embrace godly values which will help change the course of our nation,” she said.
Agnes is motivated by the relief people get when they have been successfully assisted with a case or problem, particularly those from remote areas.
Her advice to girls is to never nurse the idea of marrying an educated person or a chief executive officer for a good life.
“To enjoy life, you have to work hard and become educated because education can take you anywhere and out of poverty. Say no to early marriages,” she said.
In her free time, she loves spending time with her family as well as friends. She also likes travelling and listening to worship songs. n