The Supreme Court of Appeal has backed off on the number of justices per panel from the previous nine to seven when determining cases brought before it.
The development comes three years after the Judiciary also adjusted the number from three to nine to minimise challenges and confusion that was experienced when the number of the panel contradicted in their determination of matters.
Registrar of the High Court of Malawi and the Supreme Court of Appeal Gladys Gondwe confirmed the readjustment in an interview, saying the new arrangement would help ensure court’s business does not come to a halt in the event they are unable to secure nine justices.
“Practice direction number 1 of 2020… provides for the sitting of
seven Justices of Appeal where it is not possible or practicable to secure the nine Justices of Appeal as per the 2018 direction,” she said in a written response.
Gondwe said Section 105 (2) of the Constitution prescribes that the composition shall be of an uneven number of Justices of Appeal not being less than three.
Initially, the section provided for a minimum of three justices sitting in an appeal and did not limit the court on the maximum number of justices before it was adjusted to nine.
“The new arrangement will not create any challenges in the nature of what was sought to be averted… It helps to ensure that the court’s business does not come to a halt when we are not able to secure nine Justices of Appeal,” she said.
Commenting on the readjustment, legal commentator Ahmed Mussa applauded Judiciary for the development describing it as a move in the right direction.
“It’s a very positive development and it should be applauded because of the experience and difficulties that court users were facing due to the insistence of having nine justices and one of them was missing for one reason or another,” he said.
Mussa cited one moment when matters could not proceed because a full panel of justices could not be secured following the retirement of Jane Ansah and the absence of Danstun Mwaungulu.
“The challenges of successfully and expeditiously securing nine judges were not solved. Since the number of judges retiring is greater, it means that there are fewer Supreme Court judges sitting for a matter.”
Following the retirement of Justices Dustan Mwaungulu and Anaclet Chipeta, the Judiciary has only eight Justices of Appeal including Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda.
In October last year, President Lazarus Chakwera promoted four High Court judges to become Justices of Appeal. These include Healy Potani, Ivy Kamanga, John Katsala and Charles Mkandawire.
“Unless more Supreme Court judges are appointed and we have at least 13 judges, it is only prudent and logical to have seven judges sit and ensure that cases are being heard,” said Mussa.