Politics is a game of numbers. Political decisions often tilt towards popular views, ignoring the bigger picture and substantive matters.
Currently, the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament backs a proposal for paralegals at the Legal Aid Bureau to be representing clients in courtrooms in limited cases.
This is premised on political correctness that resonates with a trending public opinion that lawyers are too expensive for poor Malawians.
The problem arises when we bring subjects that require careful reasoning and solve them using a referendum or numerical strength of those in favour. It is a breach of the principle of majority.
Technical relevance is proven by facts, not numbers.
In biblical times, Jesus was crucified and Barabas walked free when Pilate adjudicated matters of faith by invoking a majority vote.
Today, history and law scoff at the chief who crucified Jesus and liberated Barabas to please the majority
against his mind and attested facts of the blasphemy case.
Similarly, when the post-dictatorship rule of Bakili Muluzi introduced free primary education, every Malawian was happy though there was an unmet need for accompanying resources, including teachers, classrooms, desks and other basics.
While government swiftly rolled out free education, it flopped dismally to meet the practical needs. Standards crumbled as requisite resources were lacking to meet the abrupt increased demand for basic education.
Likewise, liberalisation of burley tobacco production under the shadow of political pluralism excited small-scale farmers but flooded the market with inexperienced growers who produced low-quality leaf without minding the global demand and their quotas.
The order also brought chaos on the market as anybody bought the leaf
from farmers and took it to the market, thereby compromising standards.
Consequently, overproduction, deteriorating quality and low prices dampened the newfound pride in burley.
Today, Malawi is faced with another dangerous emotional proposal to allow paralegal officers to represent poor Malawians in court if the
clients cannot afford a lawyer.
For decades, this has been a domain of accomplished lawyers admitted to the Malawi Bar.
The proposal is a quick fix,a legal painkiller that
will give urgent relief to the bureau choked with stacks of outstanding cases but erode the quality of representation and deflate set standards.
What we the country requires is an intensive degree programme that will enroll willing diploma holders for a year to acquire the due credence.
Malaw Law Society has duly contested the emotional demands of the bureau.
The bitter lessons from the liberalisation of primary education and burley tobacco can help Malawians seriously reflect on and avoid any mess.
Almost three decades on, the mess of free primary education is a torment to secondary schools and colleges.
To allow mediocre legal representation at the primary level of justice is to accept to choke the secondary and tertiary courts with unnecessary appeals.
If we flood lower courts with paralegals, then who will carry on the appeals of the poor clients at the other levels?
Of course, not the paralegals.
From the shaky start, it can be seen that the mess would return to haunt the secondary courts and the populists would opt to have paralegals allowed to ease the pressure again.
The ripple effect of such a decision would be a justice system that is compromised in terms of standards.
Let us avoid negative precedence. If the country allow standards to fall in the justice system to ease pressure, what will prevent medical assistants from demanding to be allowed to conduct minor surgical operations because demand is high and medical doctors few? Won’t nurses to start clamouring to start prescribing drugs?
Currently, Malawi stands at crossroads. Posterity requires lawmakers, like all policymakers, to make a right decision on the basis of rational objectivity, not blind consensus or emotions of a majority seeking a quick fix and ignoring precedence and experience