Malawi Law Society (MLS) Blantyre Chapter has queried the absence of Judge Rachel Sikwese of the High Court of Malawi’s Commercial Division who was appointed to a United Nations tribunal, saying her non-availability is affecting justice delivery.
In a letter dated October 2 2019 addressed to MLS members and signed by MLS Blantyre Chapter representative Mwayi Msungama, the lawyers’ professional body alleges that most cases assigned to the judge were adjourned indefinitely or not assigned dates of hearing in the course of the year.
MLS says it is collecting information on the number of cases affected before engaging relevant authorities to find the way forward.
Reads the communication in part: “In order to substantiate this engagement and the recommendations to be made, the executive committee would like to request you members to kindly provide details of matters that have been affected by the absence of her Ladyship Honourable Judge Sikwese in course of the year.”
In July this year, Sikwese was appointed as a half-time judge at the United Nations Dispute Tribunal (UNDT).
On why the lawyers are taking up the matter instead of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), MLS honorary secretary Martha Kaukonde, in a written response yesterday, said all legal practitioners are officers of the court.
She said: “Firstly, the communication you have made reference to is an in-house document and I’m surprised how it got out to you.
“All legal practitioners are officers of the court and conduct of court business is quite complex. So, from time to time MLS, consults with its members to find ways of continuously improving legal service delivery in the country. There is nothing unusual about this and we currently don’t see how this exercise connects with JSC.”
When contacted on the development, Sikwese referred the matter to the office of the Registrar of the High Court of Malawi and Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal.
But the registrar, Agnes Patemba, refused to comment on the matter, saying her office has not received any official complaint from MLS regarding Sikwese’s absencee.
However, a judicial officer accused MLS Blantyre Chapter of jumping the gun, saying the first point of call should have been the registrar’s office.
In July this year, the UN General Assembly elected Sikwese by secret ballot alongside three other judges from Uganda, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago at its plenary 73rd Session at UN headquarters in New York and is expected to serve the body for seven years.
According to research, at 49, Sikwese becomes the youngest judge to serve in the UNDT.
She previously served as temporary adviser to the World Health Organisation.