Over two and half years after a High Court judge lodged a complaint with Malawi Law Society (MLS) that lawyers were conniving with court clerks to destroy court documents, the complaint is yet to be addressed.
Justice Esmie Chombo, who was Lilongwe Registry judge president then, in a letter to MLS dated January 18 2018, complained that she had information that some lawyers pay court staff to “misplace or destroy a court file so as to frustrate case proceedings”.
Chombo, who spoke on Friday through registrar of Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal and High Court of Malawi Gladys Gondwe, said she has had no feedback on her complaint but suggested that MLS was better-placed to shed light.
But MLS president Patrick Mpaka said in an interview that office bearers of the lawyers’ body then, headed by lawyer Khumbo Soko as president, referred the matter to Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) for an investigation.
Mpaka said there is no record at MLS to reflect any feedback from ACB on the matter.
ACB spokesperson Egrita Ndala did not respond to our questionnaire sent on Wednesday, and in the follow up telephone call on Friday, she said she needed to consult other officers to ascertain where the issue is. She was yet to provide feedback by press time last evening.
Soko, as MLS president then, told Weekend Nation on January 27 2018 that he could not comment as the matter was internal between Judiciary and MLS.
Meanwhile, local civil society organisation, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) chairperson Gift Trapence has expressed worry that ACB has not yet provided a timely response when the media made a follow up on the matter which he described as serious.
In an interview yesterday, he said two years is a long time and ACB should have ensured a speedy probe on the allegations and updated MLS.
Said Trapence: “Equally, MLS should have taken an interest in the matter and at least have the courtesy to inform the complainant, Justice Chombo, on the progress of the matter.
“But what is happening is frustrating and an impediment to the whole fight for justice and the fight against corruption. If a judge’s complaint is tossed into the dust bin just like that, how about complaints that come from ordinary Malawians?”
Blantyre-based lawyer John-Gift Mwakhwawa, who is former MLS president, had commented then that allegations made against the profession were serious and it was important that MLS takes action.
He also called on the ACB to investigate the allegations.
“The moment people lose trust in the justice system, it is the beginning of anarchy. The matter needs to be investigated for the integrity of the profession and for public confidence,” Mwakhwawa had said.
In her letter to MLS, the judge had also complained that court reporters and secretaries were abandoning legitimate court work to do typing and printing for some lawyers who offer them money for the services, a development which she said was “clearly unacceptable”.
Over the years, court processes in the country has been riddled with missing files or missing pages in case files, misplacements of files, a development which Justice Anaclet Chipeta, in a past interview with Weekend Nation, cited as one of the reasons that lead to delays in justice delivery in the country.