Malawi Law Society (MLS) has begun a crusade to expedite justice delivery in courts by analysing lists of cases under various judges nationwide, with High Court Judge Zione Ntaba being the first on its radar.
In a memo dated December 9 2021, MLS is asking its members to submit details of matters pending before Ntaba so as to substantiate its claims that she is delaying cases.
MLS vice-president Felisah Mitambo confirmed that the society circulated the memo which asked lawyers to submit details of cases before the judge.
In her response to a questionnaire on Friday, High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal registrar Gladys Gondwe said MLS was at liberty to proceed as they see fit.
She added that the Judiciary was committed to the special task force’s undertakings, but stressed its stand on a holistic approach to the matter.
This viewpoint was also echoed by Supreme Court Justice Lovemore Chikopa who co-chairs a Malawi Judiciary-MLS Special Task Force on improvement of the Judiciary on April 28 2021 to deal with case delays in the country’s courts.
At the time, MLS wanted to take on judges perceived to delay cases, but Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda asked the society to only take that path if the Judiciary fails to reform.
But Chikopa argued that targeting High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal judges was a narrow approach as about 90 percent of court cases are handled by subordinate courts.
He said: “Say if we have 40 000 registered cases, High Courts and Supreme Court would only have about five to 10 percent of those cases. So, if we are to target the judges leaving out delays in magistrate courts, as the MLS proposal suggests, we would come back here to tackle the same problem. It is for this reason that from our side, we want a holistic approach.”
Chikopa said another thing people should understand is the word ‘delay’, arguing when judges finish hearing cases they do have 90 days to deliver their judgements.
He said: “But if the police, for example, take four years to investigate a matter and after they bring it to court, prosecution delays due to other circumstances and the case runs, say, for another two years. Already that is six years. And after that a judge delivers a judgement within one month but someone has waited for six years to get justice; would that not be considered as a delay? Yes, it is.
“This is why we insist that we should approach the matter holistically and bring everyone on board. This piecemeal approach will not help.”
The Supreme Court judge said while some judiciary officers could have done better, delays are due to many factors, including inadequate human resource and finances.
Chikopa, however, said he would not stop MLS if they believe that engaging judges was a better way to deal with the delays. “I personally have no problems with alternatives they may want to explore.”
Five months after putting in place the special task force, MLS said it has decided to take what it calls complementary role to the works of the task force based on its statutory mandate.
The memo signed by MLS MLS honorary secretary Chrispin Ngunge and titled Cases pending before honourable Judge Zione Ntaba of Zomba District Registry of the High Court, said: “I refer to the above captioned matter and wish to advise that while waiting for and in order to complement the report of the Malawi Judiciary-Malawi Law Society special taskforce on improvement of the Judiciary when it comes; the executive committee has resolved to engage in a judge by judge evaluation and analysis of works before the Judiciary.
“The executive committee intends to develop a data base for each judge and engage each directly or through other offices in order to ensure progress in the performance of each judge and ultimately each judicial officer.”