High Court Judge Agnes Patemba is set to leave the bench to take up her new role as Deputy High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Minister of Information Gospel Kazako has confirmed.
Patemba, who President Lazarus Chakwera elevated from position of registrar of the High Court and Supreme Court to judge last October, will replace former Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Quent Kalichero who has been in London for the past five years.
However, despite confirming Patemba’s appointment in an interview yesterday, Kazako could not provide further details.
Patemba becomes the third judge in recent times to be appointed to other establishments in the Executive arm of government after Justice of Appeal Rezine Mzikamanda and High Court Judge Lloyd Muhara.
In October 2012, former president Joyce Banda appointed Mzikamanda as director general of Anti-Corruption Bureau while Muhara was removed from the bench by Mutharika in August 2016 to become deputy chief secretary to the President and Cabinet and later chief secretary now renamed Secretary to the President and Cabinet.
But a governance analyst and a political scientist have faulted the removal of judges, arguing that the development breaches the principle of separation of powers between the Executive and other arms of government.
A professor of political science from University of Malawi, who sought anonymity, said government should have avoided such appointments, considering that the Judiciary runs on a skeleton staff.
Said the professor: “We have many capable individuals in both public and private sectors in the country who would have served the country. In any case, we already know the Judiciary is extremely understaffed.
“In my view, government should have done a better job by exploring other avenues rather than this contentious issue of somebody who comes from an institution deemed to be independent.”
The professor said the judicial independence or separation of powers between the Judiciary and the Executive should not just be in words or on paper but in action as well.
“We want to see the Executive as much as possible avoiding interfering in the appointments of individuals in that sector because it affects the element of independence,” said the academic.
On his part, Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) chairperson Gift Trapance also faulted the appointment, saying Malawians will miss an “icon and an ambassador” who was transforming the judicial fight against defilement, rape and violence against women.
“She is leaving the Judiciary when we need her services most also considering the fact that we have only few female judges on the bench,” he said.
During the past month, Patemba has drawn public attention and praises after she enhanced sentences of five defilers who were given 67 years imprisonment in total to 174 years.
The judge gave the severe punishments after reviewing previous judgements which were handed down on the five by magistrate’s courts in Nsanje and Thyolo.
The appointment comes barely eight months after Chakwera, in exercise of the powers conferred upon him by Section 111 of the Constitution, hired Patemba alongside 11 others as a High Court judge.