Three lawyers have separately sued their professional body the Malawi Law Society (MLS) for defamation after it published their names in newspapers on accusations of embezzlement of clients’ funds.
The three Lucious Kwakwala, Edwin Banda and Lusungu Gondwe are among eight lawyers the MLS’s Disciplinary Committee, which is chaired by the Solicitor General Janet Banda, reportedly named over various alleged disciplinary excesses.
The Law Society, a constitutional body with mandate to discipline its members, confirmed in an interview through its secretary Michael Goba Chipeta, on Wednesday, that it was facing the lawsuits from the three.
The lawyers, who filed their lawsuits at the High Court in Blantyre, claim they were gravely defamed.
The society, which is contesting the lawsuits, denies the claims, arguing that it was acting within its mandate, backed by the laws of Malawi.
In the matters, two MLS former presidents—Mandala Mambulasa and Alick Msowoya—volunteered to represent the Law Society for free.
Mambusala is challenging Kwakwala’s lawsuit while Msowoya is challenging Gondwe and Banda’s lawsuits.
According to the court documents we have seen, Kwakwala, who is suing the Solicitor General, in her personal capacity and as chairperson of MLS’s Disciplinary Committee and the Law Society, as the second defendant, argues that on or about May 26 2017, the defendants falsely and maliciously wrote and/or printed and published, caused to be written, printed and published a notice which is defamatory of him.
Kwakwala argues that the statement, which was published in The Daily Times and The Nation, meant that he conducted himself in a fraudulent and improper manner.
The MLS statement recommended that Kwakwala be reprimanded.
Kwakwala argues that newspapers have a large circulation throughout Malawi and are always, and regularly, posted on the Internet, which is read by millions of readers all over the world.
He claims he was not called to any conduct or disciplinary hearing, a claim MLS, through Mambulasa, denies.
Kwakwala, who is demanding punitive damages for defamation and aggravated or exemplary damages for defamation, claims that the said notice, in its natural and ordinary meaning and/or inferential meaning, was meant and was understood recommended for various punitive measures.MLS disciplinary committee
The then MLS president Soko referred the matter to Solicitor General Janet Banda, who signed the public notice.
How MLS conducts disciplinary actions
When a complaint is raised with the Malawi Law Society (MLS), the disciplinary committee, chaired by the Solicitor General, scrutinises it.
If the committee finds merits and that it is worth pursuing the complaint, it writes the concerned legal practitioner to hear their side of the story.
The concerned legal practitioner is then called for a disciplinary hearing, and most cases legal practitioners face, are resolved at that level if one commits to pay the clients they owed within a specified period or after resolving any other complaints amicably, or indeed cleared when the disciplinary committee finds there was no wrongdoing in the transactions with their clients.
Where a legal practitioner is found guilty and a decision is made, it is required by law that the Solicitor General publishes their names in the newspapers, citing measures the disciplinary committee has taken; they may include that they be suspended or recommend that they be prosecuted.
Where the prosecution is recommended, the cases may begin in the High Court where the legal practitioner concerned defends himself or herself and the Attorney General comes in to represent the State.
A legal practitioner may win or lose the case, but losing the case leads to disbarment of the legal practitioner concerned or any other punishment the court deems fit, including suspension.
The High Court, according to the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act, may also either of its own motion and after such inquiry as it thinks fit, or on an application made by the Attorney General, make an order suspending any legal practitioner off the roll, or may admonish any legal practitioner if he has been guilty of fraudulent or improper conduct in the discharge of his professional duty, among other reasons.