The Office of the Attorney General (AG) says it is giving strict scrutiny to K800 billion worth of demand letters for compensation from lawyers because some of them appear fraudulent.
In an interview yesterday, AG Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda questioned the conduct of some lawyers who he said are committing fraud by filing hefty
compensation claims for their clients.
He warned that his office will take action by either instituting disciplinary proceedings or even commencing criminal proceedings against those found misbehaving to save the face of the legal profession.
Nyirenda said: “Sometimes I get surprised when lawyers just dream up figures. Lawyers have to be careful when they are receiving instructions for claims.
“I have got so many claims where lawyers are claiming and manufacturing clients’ issues. Total claims are in hundreds of billions, close to K800 billion.”
But Malawi Law Society (MLS) president Patrick Mpaka has defended the lawyers, saying they are trustworthy and dependable based on the standards expected of them.
He said the society has a vibrant disciplinary committee that deals with any cases of professional misconduct reported.
Mpaka said: “The AG is at liberty to bring forth any cases through the process.”
He said that between July and September this year, MLS has trained about 630 lawyers on professional ethics, standards and discipline to deal with unprofessionalism.
Nyirenda’s frustrations follow two claims in which musician Fredokiss— real name Fred Penjani Kalua— and his two colleagues are claiming K800 million from the Malawi Government for false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and damages for defamation (Read full story on Page 7 of this edition).
In another case, two families at Emcizini in Mzimba are demanding K450 million for alleged police negligence which led to the torching of their properties, including houses, personal belongings and a motor vehicle.
Nyirenda — w ho was appointed in August while serving as legal counsel for the Reserve Bank of Malawi—said he has taken off gloves to deal with anyone putting the legal profession into disrepute.
He said: “The law is clear. When you are filing a case in court, you make a sworn statement, stating that whatever is said is true to the best of your knowledge and you understand that when you say something that is false, you will be liable for perjury.
“Where lawyers come up with fraudulent claims, we are going to do two things: commencing criminal proceedings or take disciplinary action against.”
Reacting to the AG’s sentiments in an interview yesterday, Catholic University of Malawi dean of law John- Gift Mwakhwawa said if the claims are fraudulent, they are supposed to be defended.
He said people cannot be prevented from suing whoever they want to take to court.
Mwakhwawa said: “The question should be, does government have a defence to these claims? Does it have the capacity to defend these claims and if it doesn’t, then let it make sure that it builds capacity.
“The problem is that people will frame all sorts of claims hoping for a chance. The duty of a lawyer is to assess the claim and make only claims that are legally viable. But at the same time, lawyers are free to innovate and make claims in areas that have not been tested before.”
He said government continues to bleed because some people who lose cases cannot pay costs. He suggested that the AG should innovate to ensure that frivolous claims are not brought against government.
Mwakhwawa, a former MLS president, said: “When those [frivolous] claims are lost, there should be a sanction. The person who took up a frivolous claim should suffer. In that way, people will not just sue government anyhow, they will be aware that if they lose, there is a sanction.”
In a separate interview, University of Malawi associate professor of law Edge Kanyogolo said the law has many principles on how such issues as raised by the AG can be handled.
He said: “We can’t speak in abstract. Every case will be taken on its merits. There is no way we can just dismiss all claims as fraudulent, but there is also no way in which we can say all claims are genuine.
“Therefore, it remains to the court and all parties involved to weed out what are fraudulent or genuine claims.”
By October 30 2020, the Malawi Government owed claimants seeking justice about K150 billion in judgement debts dating back to 1995, according to former AG Chikosa Silungwe.
He said the claims were to be sorted out in chronological order, an arrangement former MLS president Burton Mhango said would put to rest concerns of perceived bias