People waiting to access justice will have to bear with uncertainty, more costs or even time in custody following a Judiciary strike that has paralysed courts nationwide since yesterday.
Judiciary officers, including magistrates and judges, have taken the action to force government to implement payment of housing allowances approved by Parliament in 2012, other benefits and arrears dating back from July 2016.
However, some courts continued with business as usual as officers were yet to join the sit-in.
Among the selected cases that were heard amid the sit-in was an appeal case involving the suspension of George Chaponda as Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development which took place at the Supreme Court of Appeal Blantyre later in the afternoon.
But in other districts such as Zomba, Lilongwe, Mzimba and Nkhata Bay The Nation found that no business was handled at the courts.
Confirming the sit-in, Judiciary spokesperson Mlenga Mvula said they have been negotiating with government to implement payment of housing allowances since 2012.
According to Mvula, government, through the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, negotiated with the judicial officers to allow it pay them housing allowance arrears from July 2016 and not from 2012 considering the current financial challenges, but the ministry was yet to act on its promises.
He said: “All these years, we have been negotiating with our counterparts in the Executive arm of government to implement the housing allowances which were duly approved by Parliament in 2012, but all they are doing is playing hide and seek games.
“Two weeks ago, the Conditions of Service Committee went to Lilongwe to meet representatives from the Ministry of Finance where they said they were waiting for the Minister of Finance to approve a virement which we agreed upon. We gave them a seven-day ultimatum to implement that but to no avail.”
Mvula further said the sit-in will go on until they are assured that “come this month end [February] we will receive our housing allowances with arrears.”
Meanwhile, Malawi Law Society (MLS) president John Suzi-Banda has since called on parties involved in the negotiations to resolve their differences to ensure that justice delivery is not jeopardised.
“This is a serious problem as it is going to affect delivery of justice in the country. I wish to remind all parties involved of the need for an early conclusion of the discussion process,” he said.
Suzi-Banda emphasised that the sit-in is likely to worsen congestion in the country’s prisons as some accused persons will stay longer on remand waiting for trial while others will not be able to obtain court bails.
Treasury spokesperson Alfred Kutengule asked for more time to verify, saying he had not seen the ultimatum.
“I am not aware of the sit-in by judicial officers and have not seen the ultimatum which they claim to have presented to the Ministry of Finance. I would ask you to give me some time to verify with relevant authorities,” he said.
Kutengule could not say how much money will be required for the implementation of the housing allowances and arrears.
The Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs was not immediately available to comment on the matter as the minister and the principal secretary were said to be locked in a meeting.
For seven weeks, wheels of justice in the country ground to a halt following a strike by Judiciary support staff comprising court clerks, court marshalls, interpreters and court reporters which started in November 2014.
They demanded salary increment equal to their mainstream civil service counterparts.
The seven weeks of the strike led to congestion in police holding cells and accumulation of cases with Maula Prison registering 317 cases waiting to be brought before court while Dedza Prison had 53 cases, including 11 homicide by January 6 2015.