The High Court in Blantyre has rejected a request by the Roman Catholic Church to allow it to make submissions in the Malawi Writers Union (Mawu) book ban case besides being added as an interested party through its Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM).
The church made an application last week to be added as an interested party and also to be allowed to make submissions in the case to demonstrate its stand on the banning of book and the benefits to the church as well as its teachings and implications on the mandate of ECM.
The church joined the K320 million case by bringing in four seasoned lawyers, including former Blantyre City mayor Noel Chalamanda, Gift Mwakhwawa, Wapona Kita and Inocencia Otobber.
According to a sworn statement filed by ECM secretary general Henry Saindi, the subject matter of the case centres on the mandate of the church; hence, it would be fair to allow it to be heard and advance its position.
The church further said by making submissions, it would guide the court on its teachings and the bearing of the book ban on the teachings, its role in the education sector and its values.
However, Judge Jack Nriva last Thursday declined to grant the church’s wish to make submissions but instead allowed it to join the case as an interested party.
This was after lawyer for the claimant, Kuleza Phokoso, asked the court to make direction as to the extent of the ECM’s role in the proceedings.
The ruling meant that the church, through its four lawyers, will only observe the proceedings without actively participating or making submissions advancing their position in court as per its wish.
Phokoso said much as they had no objections to the church’s addition as a party, the case had nothing to do with the mandate of the Catholic Church or ECM.
“The case is about judicial supervision of the exercise of power by statutory bodies and public institutions namely the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and the Malawi Institute of Education [MIE].
“Further, the case is about the vindication of the rule of law in ensuring that the limits of the law are not overstepped, procedural fairness is not violated, and that power is not unreasonably exercised,” he said in an interview.
Phokoso said the church needed to understand the extent of its involvement in the case and remain within the confines of what it means to be an interested party.
He said: “Being an interested party meant that the Catholic Church would be allowed to merely observe the case but not to make submissions or advance their position in court as judicial review proceedings are not about the merits and demerits of the decision to ban the book.”
There was no immediate comment from the church yesterday.
The writers’ body is demanding K320 million in compensation from government after the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology withdrew its Chichewa Literature textbook titled Kusintha Maganizo ndi Nkhani Zina from the list of the country’s secondary school syllabus examinable textbooks.
Last month, the union obtained an injunction restraining the ministry and MIE from withdrawing the book, a collection of short stories, arguing it was a “wrongful” decision.
Mawu is also seeking relief from the court to overturn government’s decision and not to replace the textbook with any other.
Last month, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology Principal Secretary Justin Saidi told The Nation that his ministry did “the right thing” to remove the book from the syllabus.