South Africa-based Malawian professor of law, Danwood Chirwa, has faulted Malawi Law Society (MLS) for failing to uphold the legal profession that respects minimum standards of integrity and ethical behaviour by letting lawyers answering criminal charges to continue representing clients in court.
But reacting to Chirwa’s sentiments, MLS said yesterday that under the country’s Constitution, every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent court of law; hence, the accused lawyers have to enjoy the full benefits of their rights, including right to economic activity “in this case, representing the clients in court”.
Chirwa, a professor of law at the prestigious University of Cape Town in South Africa, said the public deserves an explanation from MLS, which he described as the “worst law society in a constitutional democracy”.
Writing on his Facebook page yesterday, Chirwa said: “If the [MLS] is committed to maintaining a profession that respects minimum standards of integrity and ethical behaviour, it has to explain to the public how and why it is that lawyers who are answering criminal charges in the courts continue to represent clients, including those who are charged with similar offences or offences connected to the allegations, which they themselves are facing. This is embarrassing the whole profession.”
He observed that if a person is accused of a criminal offence, it suggests that he or she is not fit and proper person; hence, “a responsible law society” has to take measures to protect the public.
“It may mean a suspension of a licence or restrictions. Only in Malawi are lawyers allowed to go to jail one weekend and show up in a court to represent a client a minute after being granted bail. It’s unacceptable and this must stop,” stated Chirwa.
But speaking in a telephone interview yesterday, MLS treasurer John Suzi-Banda said everyone, including lawyers, has a right to a fair trial.
“While it may sometimes appear inconvenient, this is a very important right that every citizen, be lawyers, doctors, accountants, politicians or ordinary citizens, enjoy under the broader right to fair trial.”
He said as MLS, they cannot stop citizens who willingly engage lawyers who are answering criminal charges as their legal counsel in their matters.
Suzi-Banda said if found guilty, the lawyers would go through the normal disciplinary process under the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act and until then they cannot be stopped from practising on mere suspicion.
He said in practice “one cannot use hazy notions of ethical standards or professionalism” to suspend someone’s enjoyment of their rights unless due process is followed.
Currently, lawyers answering criminal charges and representing clients on the same are private practice lawyers Ralph Kasambara (Senior Counsel) and Wapona Kita.
The two are being co-accused in conspiracy, possession of property suspected to have been stolen amounting to K55 million and money laundering, but at the same time they are also representing their clients in similar cases.
But in an interview yesterday, Kasambara said while he would not dignify “cheap comments” from social media, if people thought what they were doing was unethical, they should provide necessary provisions in the code of ethics for the law society.
Kita could not be reached for comment as both his mobile phone lines were out of reach.