Private practice lawyer Ritchie Katsichi on Friday wept before Chief Justice Rizine Mzikamanda in Blantyre immediately after announcing his verdict suspending him from practising law in Malawi for two years.
The lawyer was suspended for embezzling K1.3 million client’s funds, which the court learnt he later refunded. The amount involved and the fact that he refunded were probably the reason he broke down and wept.
Katsichi works at Kalua & Company and is also a Catholic University of Malawi law lecturer.
He was suspended alongside another private practice lawyer, Nicely Msowoya. Msowoya failed to remit about K5 million to his client. However, the court also learnt Msowoya refunded the money to his client.
But unlike Katsichi, Msowoya appeared relaxed, since Attorney General (AG) Thabo Chakaka-Nyirenda’s initial application was to have them disbarred.
In his petition to the Chief Justice, the AG said the offence was a professional misconduct and asked the court to punish the two.
Passing his verdict on the two lawyers, Mzikamanda agreed with Chakaka-Nyirenda that this was serious misconduct, and went on to suspend them.
Chakaka-Nyirenda said in an interview after the verdict: “The legal profession draws its lifeline from integrity, probity, honesty and trustworthiness of those who practise it. The conduct of the lawyers concerned, that is embezzlement of client’s funds, breached the high standard of integrity, probity and trustworthiness and I called for meaningful punishment which the court has imposed.
“The regime for the discipline of lawyers is aimed at safeguarding the interests of the reputation of the legal profession and in the interest of addressing grievances of those who may have been affected by the misconduct complained of.”
The AG said the punishment aims to protect the public from being led to believe erroneously that the attorneys concerned have the attributes for the proper performance of that function.
“My office wants to foster and promote discipline in the legal profession. The ruling is welcome. Of course, there are more cases worse than this that are coming to court soon,” he said.
The AG said failure to remit money to clients remains a serious improper conduct that is unacceptable in the legal profession. He said citizens sought the services of legal practitioners on trust and there is no excuse any lawyer would give for embezzling such funds.
“By now, I expected my colleagues to realise the seriousness of this improper conduct. This must be a thing of the past, especially when we know of the consequences,” said Chakaka-Nyirenda.
Towards the end of last month, the Chief Justice also disbarred another private practice lawyer, Maxwell Tembo for not remitting about K7 million to five of his clients. Tembo did not oppose to a petition the AG had filed.
Meanwhile, Malawi Law Society president Patrick Mpaka has appealed to lawyers to always abide by ethical standards. In April this year, an independent MLS disciplinary committee report indicated that between March 2021 and February 2022, the society punished 22 lawyers for various offences and that six were recommended for disbarment.