The Malawi Law Society (MLS) and other critics have reproved President Lazarus Chakwera for appointing High Court judges to foreign missions at a time the Judiciary is already facing shortage of judges, resulting in delayed disposal of cases.
Within a month, Chakwera, who leads the nine-party Tonse Alliance administration, has appointed two female High Court judges to diplomatic missions in Washington DC, USA and London in the United Kingdom (UK).
The two are Esmie Chombo based at High Court Lilongwe District Registry, who has been posted to Washington DC, and Agnes Patemba who was at the Principal Registry in Blantyre and is now heading to London as Deputy High Commissioner to Thomas Bisika.
In an interview yesterday, MLS president Patrick Mpaka said although the President was not prohibited by law to make such appointments, the move did not serve the public interest.
He said the appointing authority could have done better because the public was already complaining about the pace of justice delivery at the courts with the Judiciary openly acknowledging it as a disservice to the public.
Said Mpaka: “While there is technically nothing wrong, all these and many other basic matters of substance and perception should have operated in the mind of the appointing authority in terms of dealing with the perception of insensitivity to public needs the appointment creates.”
Under Section 119 (7) of the Constitution, the President is mandated to assign a judge, with the consent of the person, to any other public office for such period as he may determine.
Further, the section stipulates that during the time, the person may cease to perform the duties of his or her office as a judge, but that assignment shall not be regarded as removal from being a judge.
Mpaka wondered why Chakwera made such appointments when the country was reeling from a difficult experience over Judge Lloyd Muhara’s role as Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet.
He said MLS disapproves any kind of heedless intersection between the Judiciary and the Executive branches of government, adding it was time to walk the talk on separation of powers which “this appointment does not appear to achieve”.
In a statement issued yesterday, signed by its executive director Sylvester Namiwa, Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives described Chakwera’s move as an attempt to “cripple the already understaffed Judiciary”.
Reads the statement in part: “We appeal to the Malawi Law Society to critically look at this development, and where necessary, take an action.
Last October, Chakwera appointed Patemba and 11 others as High Court judges, a move that increased the number of judges from 27 then to 35.