Five judges of the High Court of Malawi, who presided over the landmark May 21 2019 presidential election nullification petition, have won the 2020 Chatham House Prize for protecting the country’s Constitution.
In a letter dated October 23 2020 informing the five-judge panel of the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) through its chairperson Judge Healey Potani, Chatham House director and chief executive Robin Niblett said the judges were recognised for upholding judicial independence.
Reads the communication: “Dear Honourable Justice Potani, I am delighted to inform you that your nomination for the 2020 Chatham House Prize has been voted for as the winner of this year’s award.
“All of us at Chatham House, including our three presidents—Sir John Major, Baroness Manningham-Buller and The Lord Darling of Roulanish—join me in sending you our warmest congratulations.”
Potani heard the matter alongside Ivy Kamanga, Dingiswayo Madise, Redson Kapindu and Mike Tembo. They heard the matter as a ConCourt following certification of the matter as constitutional by Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda.
The five judges on February 3 2020 nullified the May 21 2019 presidential election over alleged irregularities, especially in the results management system as prayed by first petitioner Saulos Chilima of UTM Party and second petitioner Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party.
The court further declared that then president Peter Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was not duly elected and ordered a fresh presidential election within 150 days.
In his communication, Niblett said the choice among the nominees for the prize was made by a ballot of all Chatham House members. The ConCourt judges made it to the top three, according to a June statement.
He said: “Our members recognised you for upholding the independence of the Judiciary in your historic February 2020 ruling on Malawi’s presidential election.”
Neither Potani nor Agnes Patemba, the registrar of the High Court of Malawi and Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, could be reached for comment last evening.
But in an earlier interview following the nomination of the panel among the top three nominees in June, Potani described the nomination as “obviously good news”.
He said at the time: “I and my four colleagues and indeed the entire Malawi Judiciary feel humbled by such an honour and it’s a pride even to the country as a whole.”
While a seven-judge panel of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal upheld the ConCourt judgement on May 8 2020, Mutharika, a professor of international law, opined that the Judiciary erred. He described the judgement as a “judicial coup” and an attempt to usurp the will of the people who voted for him.
Mutharika subsequently lost the June 23 Fresh Presidential Election to the pair of Chakwera and Chilima who amassed 59 percent of the vote.
Chatham House is a world centre for research and analysis of international affairs established in 1920.
Previous recipients of the Chatham House Prize introduced in 2005 and awarded on behalf of its patron Queen Elizabeth II include former Ukraine president Victor Yuschenko, former Brazil president Luiz Inacio da Silva, former president of Mozambique Joaquim Chissano and former president of Ghana John Kuffuor.
In the letter, Niblett indicated that Chatham House will arrange a presentation ceremony for the award in Lilongwe in the near future and at its London Conference next June.
Organisers of the award said the selection process of the winner takes place in three stages where it initially draws on the input of senior research teams and then recommendations are presented to its co-presidents who produce the shortlist of nominees before voting is done by the full Chatham House membership.
The international award is presented each year to an institution or states person who is judged by Chatham House members to have made the most significant contribution to the improvement of international relations in the previous year.