Today, February 25, JOHN SUZI BANDA has officially left the position of president for the Malawi Law Society (MLS) having consecutively served for two terms of one year each. Our News Analyst LUCKY MKANDAWIRE talks to the outgoing president about his two-year presidency and other issues. Excerpts:
How would you describe your two-year journey?
There are many words I can use to describe my two-year journey. It has been a humbling, fulfilling and enriching journey. It has been an absolute honour to me to serve the honourable Society. I have grown not just as a leader but as a person. In truth, words fail me.
What motivated you to compete for presidency and then seek re-election in the midst of numerous experienced learned men?
As President Theodore Roosevelt aptly put it, “Every man owes some of his time to the upbuilding of the profession to which he belongs,” indeed, this obligation is one of the great things which distinguishes a profession from a business. The soundness and the necessity of President Roosevelt’s admonition in so far as it relates to the legal profession cannot be doubted. I personally thought that I had some ideas on the direction to which MLS had to take. Thankfully, the membership gave me the opportunity to implement those ideas. I should believe I acquitted myself well in that regard.
Having served for two consecutive terms, what would you declare as your key achievements?
I do not look at what the MLS has achieved as my achievements but rather as collective achievements of all members. Some of the achievements recorded in the past two years are; firstly, refocusing the MLS’s attention to the needs of its members by, among other things, organising numerous training sessions for our members, the opening of our office in Lilongwe to cater for our members and members of the general public there, introduction of membership cards, review of hourly rates for party and party costs, and the enforcement of minimum standards in the management of law firms.
Secondly, review and adoption of the MLS’s Strategic Plan which provides the blue print and road map for the Secretariat, leadership and general membership for the next five years. Thirdly, designing and implementing outreach programmes aimed at the provision of pro bono [or free] legal services to the most vulnerable and marginalised in our communities including but not limited to women, children, young offenders and the LGBTI community.
Fourth, revitalising and smoothening the disciplinary process in the legal profession through the recruitment of dedicated personnel at the Secretariat; capacitation of the disciplinary committee, review of all existing live complaints; making the disciplinary process more transparent to the general. Fifth, broadening and deepening our engagement with government and other stakeholders in the entrenchment of good governance and rule of law in the country through constant review of government actions or omissions, direct engagement with the authorities, the commencement of public interest litigation and public critique of some of the decisions of government.
Sixth, through our membership of the Council for Legal Education, advocating for a fairer system of admission of trained lawyers to the Bar through better administration of Bar Examinations and the establishment of the Malawi Institute of Legal Education all of which initiatives would assist in increasing the number of lawyers in the country which is currently too low.
There have been rising cases of errant lawyers duping clients and on several occasions MLS has told justice-seekers it was investigating such lawyers, but nobody has so far been successfully prosecuted, why?
MLS has concluded several cases in the past year. Any individual complainant can go to any office of the society and they shall be given the status of their complaint. The system is now automated. In the two years, MLS has handled 368 complaints some dating back many years ago. Of these, 235 have been resolved, 60 were referred to the disciplinary committee, 136 are still active, but that is to say, either we are expecting response from our members or our members responded and we are waiting for feedback from the complaint, etc. Four matters were referred to the Attorney General who, in turn, applied to the Chief Justice to have those members debarred. One of our members was debarred in the past year. So, there is progress being made. But we should never be complacent. There is always room for improvement.
There has been a general public perception that the said wayward lawyers cannot be disciplined by MLS because they are friends with the leadership, what would you say?
I have heard that and I must confess that it personally hurts to hear that. While I understand the frustrations members of the public may have with the disciplinary process which, as I have admitted, is quite cumbersome, nothing hurts more than being accused of being complicit in afflicting agony to innocent members of the public who see the Society as their last chance at getting justice. Taking a strong and uncompromising position on disciplinary matters against our members which include, if I may confess, personal friends