The Malawi Judiciary will soon have a deputy Chief Justice, judge presidents and a court of appeal, among others, following a review of its functional set-up.
In an internal memo dated April 14 2021 addressed to justices of appeal, High Court judges, registrars, magistrates, researchers and all members of staff, Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda says the functional review’s objective was to re-organise and strengthen the Judiciary.
States the Chief Justice in the memo: “I am overly delighted to report to all of us that the task to review the functional set-up and establishment of our institution has been accomplished and completed.
“Suffice, in this communication, to report that the Authorised Establishment Warrant increases the staffing establishment to 5 830 posts from the current 2 802 posts.”
Nyirenda says the process, which was guided by the Department of Human Resource Management and Development, responds to the Judiciary’s current and envisaged responsibilities as well as the 2019-2024 strategic plan.
“It focuses on the structure and the establishment of the Judiciary. Following the functional review, we will be able to realistically and appropriately rationalise our staffing needs, infrastructure needs, utility needs and funding needs,” he says, adding it will also enable the Judiciary to support the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDSIII).
He said a functional review implementation committee comprising members from the Judiciary, Office of the President and Cabinet, Department of Human Resource Management and Development and Treasury has since been set up.
The review, which the Chief Justice described as forward-looking, comes amid calls from the Malawi Law Society (MLS) to institute measures to discipline or impeach judges that delay cases unnecessarily.
According to the memo, the functional review will also incorporate the establishment of new sections, include a research and planning directorate, security service as well as a public relations and corporate affairs directorate.
It will further increase the Industrial Relations Court (IRC) registries and chief resident magistrates (CRM) from three to six and four to six, respectively.
The review follows a study of the Judiciary organisation structure and establishment that was carried out between September 2015 and November 2020, the memo further indicates.
In an interview yesterday, High Court and Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal registrar Gladys Gondwe confirmed the development, saying it cuts across the whole Judiciary to strengthen their capacity to improve the pace of handling of cases.
She said the Judiciary seeks to establish the office of the deputy Chief Justice and it has already consulted relevant authorities to kick start the process.
Said Gondwe: “There are a number of statutory responsibilities which the Chief Justice undertakes which are only in the domain of Chief Justice. This is apart from taking charge of policy direction for the institution and being responsible for general welfare of both judicial officers and members of staff.
“The deputy Chief Justice will share this load as is the case with other arms of government, while judge presidents will mostly take charge over matters within the specific tiers of courts.”
She said the anticipated increase in judicial staff will ease the workload on the officers, which will also help to deal with accountability issues on judicial staff’ performance.
According to Gondwe, the Judiciary will require about K1.5 billion to fill the positions which are on the priority list. She could not be drawn to disclose the priority positions and at what level the new Court of Appeal will fall.
Meanwhile, MLS president Patrick Mpaka has welcomed the Judiciary functional review, saying the Law Society will support its implementation and any effort that seeks to improve the pace of justice delivery to Malawians.
Last week, MLS asked the Judicial Service Commission to allow it to directly engage with or impeach judges whose pace in handling cases is deemed questionable.
Said Mpaka: “The increase of judicial officers and registries at the subordinate court level [IRC and CRM] is likely to reduce the workload at the superior courts [High Court and Supreme Court] and hopefully make justice more accessible to ordinary Malawians within their localities.
On April 28 2021, MLS leadership met Judiciary top brass where Nyirenda is reported to have committed to shaking up judges to ensure speedy hearing of cases and passing out of judgements.
The meeting followed a letter that MLS wrote on April 7 2021 addressed to the JSC, the Registrar and Attorney General Chikosa Silungwe, seeking an audience with them to discuss resolutions the Law Society passed at its annual general meeting held in March on ways to improve the pace of justice delivery.