Malawi Law Society (MLS) has come out firing on all fronts against the proposal by the Legal Aid Bureau to amend the law on legal representation, branding the process unconstitutional and illegal.
The proposal to amend the Legal Aid Bureau Act to allow legal assistants limited audience in magistrate’s courts to offer legal representation to the underprivileged has enjoyed massive support from the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament, the Judiciary and several other stakeholders, including civil society organisations and some individual practising lawyers.
But MLS, in a public statement issued yesterday, said in line with the constitutional responsibility of the Judiciary, it would engage the courts to give guidance on the implications of the several legal issues involved in the proposal.
Leaving no stone unturned as it appears determined to throw at the proponents of the law amendment every brick available, MLS has also written Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo and Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani Hara to alert them on the alleged “unconstitutional and illegal acts” the bureau and Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament are engaged in.
But in his reaction to the MLS statement in an interview yesterday, Legal Aid Bureau director Masautso Chamkakala said the bureau was perplexed at how a law reform consultative process could be unconstitutional or illegal.
“The proposed reform is designed to ensure that we operate within the law,” said the director, himself a member of MLS.
But MLS, in the statement jointly signed by its president Patrick Mpaka and secretary Chris Ngunde, said it considers that the public is being misled and possibly deceived on what they are being asked to give up at legal representation.
The proposal, the society said, seeks to take away from and reduce the responsibility of the government to the less-privileged at legal representation.
Further reads the statement: “The Constitution in sections 42(1)(c) and 42(2)(f)(v) has given to the needy the right of legal representation by ‘a legal practitioner at the expense of the State’.
“The proposal seeks to reduce the responsibility of the State to the needy by offering at Legal Aid Bureau the cost of a legal assistant instead of the cost of a legal practitioner to the government.”
The Law Society fears the proposal seeks to promote, entrench and formalise inequality between the rich and the less-privileged at legal representation. But during public hearings the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament organised in Blantyre and Mzuzu, stakeholders that included the civil society and the Judiciary have all spoken in favour of the amendment, arguing it is better for the poor to at least have a legal representation from a legal assistant than none.