Solicitor General Reyneck Matemba says government will challenge legal costs that the High Court of Malawi has awarded the Women Lawyers Association (WLA) in the Msundwe sexual harassment case.
In a telephone interview yesterday, he said his office will handle the matter since the Attorney General’s (AG) office is vacant.
Matemba, who is also Ministry of Justice Principal Secretary, said: “We will be filing an application to review the legal costs. So, in the absence of the AG it is my office that will be taking up the matter.”
Government’s action follows a public outcry after it emerged that WLA which represented 18 victims in the case has been awarded K255 million in legal costs.
Matemba said it is normal that the Solicitor General can take up on matters that need redress when there is vacancy in the AG’s office.
“All processes as regards to that matter are in motion,” he said.
The AG’s office fell vacant last month after President Lazarus Chakwera fired Chikosa Silungwe from the position.
However, Matemba did not give details on when the application would be filed apart from stressing that processes have begun.
The WLA has faced a backlash from the public, including the Malawi Law Society (MLS) who described the legal costs as “unusual and unjustified” since the case was handled pro bono.
The Women’s Manifesto Movement yesterday in a statement also asked the WLA to reflect on the matter as counterparts in the women’s rights movement.
In the statement signed by coordinators Maggie Kathewera-Banda and Barbara Banda said the group is meeting various stakeholders to see how best justice can be achieved on the matter.
Reads the statement in part: “The Women’s Manifesto Movement is currently engaging stakeholders to ensure justice is served for the Msundwe sexual abuse victims and survivors.
“The movement also appreciates the possibility of the State challenging the award in mention. We, therefore, urge all concerned parties to expedite this process to ensure it serves the public interest and more importantly, the victims and survivors.”
On Sunday, the Law Society observed that the State has 21 days from August 6 2021 to seek review of the court order.
In a statement signed by MLS president Patrick Mpaka and honorary secretary Chrispine Ngunde they described the party-to-party costs as unusual and unjustified.
“The taxpayer’s money will not ordinarily be disbursed before the expiry of 14 days from August 6 2021. There should, therefore, be no public anxiety if the State is willing to challenge the award of K255 684 112 under due process of the court,” reads in part MLS’ statement.
But in unsigned statement issued on Saturday, the WLA said both compensation and costs were orders of the court that were given after assessing all legal issues that were brought before it.
The High Court in Lilongwe last month paid the 18 victims K130 million as compensation. The court granted different sums to the victims based on determinations made.
The highest paid victim, a 17-year-old girl, was awarded K10 million while the lowest received K4.5 million.
The violence at Msundwe, Mpingu and Mbwatalika trading centres in Lilongwe City followed protests that ensued post-May 21 2019 presidential election.
Police allegedly went on the rampage in the areas following the stoning of their colleague Suwedi Iman, by residents during protests.