The High Court of Malawi has rebuked Justice of Appeal Dunstain Mwaungulu for commenting on live court matters through his personal social media platforms.
Delivering his ruling in a case where former president Peter Mutharika’s personal
bodyguard Norman Chisale wants the State’s order seizing his assets discharged, High Court Judge Mike Tembo said Mwaungulu’s social media commentary was contrary to the preservation of the dignity of the judicial office, impartiality and independence of the Judiciary.
He said Mwaungulu’s commentary also does not reflect well with his duties as a sitting member of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal where any appeal, including the case at hand, may be heard.
Tembo said: “This court wishes to politely excoriate Justice Mwaungulu for his habit of commenting on live court matters in this court which have the potential to end up in the Supreme Court of Appeal where he currently sits.
“The habit is untenable, objectionable and unbecoming, to say the least.”
The judge said the
general code of conduct for judicial officers makes it clear that it is improper for them to conduct themselves in any way objectionable or unbecoming to the proper discharge of their duties; hence, Mwaungulu acted in the contrary.
Tembo also cited a scenario where Mwaungulu commented on the historic presidential election nullification case when it was in progress last year, describing some of the comments as misleading and astonishing.
He said the court had to address the matter and that the same be recorded “for posterity for what it is worth” since the court cannot respond on Facebook.
In his Facebook post, Mwaungulu wondered whether the State could proceed in obtaining the preservation order.
W h e n contacted yesterday, Mwaungulu, currently based in the United Kingdom, said he did not specifically comment on the Chisale case. He said his comment in the Facebook post was general.
He said: “The thought must be dispelled that I commented on a pending case before the court. I was commenting on the relevant Act and posing the question raised by an Act of Parliament. The Act itself caricatures these proceedings as civil proceedings.
“The Act defines who officers are. They, in an
appropriate case, include the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] and the AG [Attorney General]. Strictly speaking, I was not commenting on a pending matter.”
In a telephone interview yesterday, Malawi Law Society (MLS) president Patrick Mpaka said by law, it is not right to comment on ongoing judicial proceedings and the law does not exempt judges.
He said: “As the law stands, it is better that integrity of court proceedings be maintained. That is what is expected even of ordinary people. So, the Malawi Law Society sides with Judge Tembo on this one.”
Mpaka said the stand taken by Tembo also acts as a reminder to people on how best they can use social media, especially on the fact that commenting on court proceedings is criminalised under Section 113 of the Penal Code.
The section states that the court may cause the offender to be detained in custody and sentence the offender to a fine or in default serve six months imprisonment without hard labour