Five judges of the High Court of Malawi, who heard the landmark May 21 2019 presidential election nullification case, have earned international recognition and are among the top three nominees for the 2020 Chatham House prize.
Through a July 14 2020 letter addressed to Judge Healey Potani, who chaired the five-judge panel that sat as the Constitutional Court (ConCourt), United Kingdom-based Chatham House director Robin Niblett said the nomination of the judges followed their bravery demonstrated in protecting the constitutional process during the presidential election case.
Chatham House—a world centre for research and analysis for international affairs—said it believed that the contribution of the five judges would improve the state of international relations.
Reads the letter in part: “The council of Chatham House joins me in congratulating the judges of the Constitutional Court of Malawi on being included on the shortlist of three nominees for the 2020 Chatham House prize.”
Reacting to the development, Potani—who heard the case alongside judges Ivy Kamanga, Mike Tembo, Redson Kapindu and Dingiswayo Madise—yesterday said he received the letter on Monday this week and described the nomination as “obviously good news”.
He said: “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.”
Potani, who spoke in his individual capacity, however referred The Nation to the registrar of the High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal Agnes Patemba for an official comment.
But efforts to get Patemba’s comment proved futile as her phone went unanswered.
On his part, Sunduzwayo Madise, dean of the Faculty of Law at Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi, described the nomination of the five judges as a big achievement of the Judiciary and Malawi as a country.
He said even if the judges fail to claim the ultimate prize, the shortlist had sent a message to the world that Malawi “can rise above pettiness”.
Said Madise: “This is a huge achievement and positive for Malawi. The nomination shows Malawi’s levels of maturity in terms of democracy and the rule of law.”
The five judges on February 3 2020 nullified the presidential election case 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 (MCP). The court declared that then president Peter Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was not duly elected and ordered a fresh election within 150 days.
A seven-judge panel of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal on May 8 upheld the ConCourt judgement.
However, Mutharika, a professor of international law, opined that the Judiciary erred in its judgement. 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 in the June 23 fresh presidential election to the pair of Chakwera and Chilima who amassed 59 percent of the vote.
Previous recipients of the award introduced in 2005 include Ukraine President Victor Yuschenko, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, president of Brazil, former Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano and former president of Ghana John Kuffuor.