Chief Justice Rizine Mzikamanda has disbarred private practice lawyer Maxwell Tembo of Bullen and Associates for not remitting about K7 million to five of his clients.
The decision followed a petition Attorney General (AG) Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda filed with the Chief Justice yesterday.
Mzikamanda declared: “The respondent [Tembo] has been disbarred from practising law as the petition was not opposed here in court. I will give my full opinion in due course.”
The AG asked that Tembo should be struck off from the legal practitioners list after a Malawi Law Society (MLS) disciplinary committee found him guilty.
Nyirenda submitted the petition in open court at the High Court of Malawi in Blantyre in the absence of Tembo. He sought a declaration from the Chief Justice that Tembo’s failure to remit money to his clients amounted to improper conduct, as such, should be disbarred.
In submitting the petition, which was backed by a sworn statement from MLS disciplinary committee chairperson Shabir Latif, Nyirenda told Mzikamanda that lawyers are under obligation under the country’s laws as well as their code of ethics to update their clients on progress of cases they are pursuing on their behalf.
But the AG said Tembo failed to abide by such laws, which amounted to his conduct being improper and that it brings the law profession into disrepute.
He further asked the court to make a declaration for Tembo to repay his clients’ with interest at the current prevailing commercial rate.
According to the AG, the clients who filed complaints with MLS are Chifundo Kavalo, Livingston Masanjala, Peter Chikadza, Afia Mothi and Ezekiel Nkolokosa. He said the clients were expected to receive money as compensation for various issues from Prime Insurance Company.
Nyirenda said Tembo did not remit the money between 2015 and 2020.
Before the Chief Justice started hearing the petition, the AG asked for 20 more minutes to wait for Tembo to attend the session.
However, after 20 minutes, Nyirenda asked Mzikamanda to proceed with hearing the petition, saying Tembo was given ample time to avail himself before the court.
Mzikamanda was also scheduled to hear another petition involving private practice lawyer Richard Katsichi for similar matters, but adjourned the hearing to May 6 2022.
Katsichi had served the AG with hardcopy affidavits while hearing of the petition against Tembo was in progress and Nyirenda said he needed more time to study the documents.
During the May 6 2022 scheduled hearing, the AG said he will file similar petitions with the Chief Justice against private practice lawyers Nicely Msowoya, Julius Nyambo and Katsichi.
In an interview after the hearing, Nyirenda said Tembo is among 12 lawyers who embezzled about K128 million from clients.
He said his office will move the courts to have them all disbarred and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions begin criminal proceedings.
Said Nyirenda: “We believe that this action will be a lesson to other lawyers. We will have to do things in order that such matters should be history. The aim of disciplining lawyers is not to punish them, but protect the public and the law profession itself.”
But the AG said he could not disclose names of the remaining errant lawyers until such a time when their petitions will be brought before the Chief Justice.
In April this year, an independent MLS disciplinary committee report indicated that between March 2021 and February 2022, the lawyers’ body punished 22 lawyers for various offences and that six were recommended for disbarment.
The report said the lawyers were punished for offences relating to professional negligence, overcharging clients, intimidation and threats, failure to update clients, failure to handover files, failure to remit funds, among others.
In recent years, there has been a growing perception that MLS has been shielding lawyers from numerous reported misconduct cases.