The High Court of Malawi has dismissed an application by former president Peter Mutharika and former secretary to President and Cabinet Lloyd Muhara to review the K69.5 million legal costs they were ordered to pay.
The duo was earlier found to have abused their powers by attempting to force Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda and now retired Justice of Appeal Edward Twea into retirement last year.
Mutharika and Muhara, himself a judge of the High Court, argued that the amount was on the higher side and that they made decisions in their respective official capacities; hence, it is unfair to hold them personally liable.
But the High Court on Thursday dismissed the application and further ordered Mutharika and Muhara to pay K2.2 million as costs of the action to the applicants—Malawi Law Society (MLS), Human Rights Defenders Coalition and Association of Magistrates in Malawi.
Delivering the ruling in Lilongwe, High Court assistant registrar Anthony Kapaswiche faulted Mutharika and Muhara for bringing new objections which they did not initially object to in the assessment for order of costs.
On the review of costs, he said the two were not supposed to bring objections that were not made in the first place.
Kapaswiche said the respondents fell short of raising reasonable objections to the order of assessment of costs delivered on March 12 2021.
He said: “To a large extent, the respondents did not do a good job in opposing the bill in the initial taxation of costs that led to the order dated March 12 2021 as they only contested three issues that were ably dealt by the court.
“On objections with regard to the issues that were determined by the court, the objections raised have been found wanting and none of the said objections has succeeded in this court.
“In essence, there was no need for this application. I hereby condemn the respondents to pay costs for the present application.”
The duo has 30 days within which it has to pay the new costs.
In an interview after the ruling, Mutharika’s lawyer Mwayi Banda expressed frustration, saying he did not expect such an outcome. He said the expectation was that the court would go through every point raised other than trashing them.
Banda said the ruling has been sent to Mutharika for further instructions.
Former Attorney General Charles Mhango, who is representing Muhara, said he needed time to go through the ruling before he could comment.
But MLS lawyer Wesley Mwafulirwa welcomed the ruling, saying it is in line with their stand that the two had to pay costs personally, as well as send a warning to leaders that they should be making responsible decisions.
He said the applicants will also claim other costs they were awarded in other applications that were dismissed.
High Court Judge Kenyatta Nyirenda earlier faulted Mutharika and Muhara for writing the Chief Justice and Twea to go on leave pending retirement.
The decision to send the judges on leave was made prior to the court-sanctioned fresh presidential election held on June 23 2020 which Mutharika, a professor of international law, continuously dismissed as a “judicial coup d’état”.