President Lazarus Chakwera has appointed four new judges of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal and introduced 12 new faces to the High Court of Malawi bench where 50-50 gender representation has been achieved.
With dust yet to settle over the appointment of parastatal boards where gender rights activists faulted him for sidelining women and ignoring the Gender Equality Act of 2013 that provides for 40-60 representation of either gender, the President this time around has appointed six women and six men to the High Court.
For Justices of Appeal, there is one woman—Ivy Kamanga—and three males, namely Healey Potani, John Katsala and Charles Mkandawire, according to a statement signed by Deputy Secretary to the President and Cabinet Janet Banda.
In the High Court, the President, on recommendation from the Judicial Service Commission, promoted High Court and Supreme Court registrar Agnes Patemba and other judicial officers Justus Kishindo, Violet Chipao, Anneline Kanthambi, Vikochi ChimaMzende Mvula and Simeon Mdeza to judges. The list is completed by Masauko Msungama, William Yakuwawa Msiska, Maureen Kondowe, Mandala Mambulasa and Charlotte Wezi Malonda from private practice.
In an interview last evening, Patemba said this was the first time such a high number of judges was appointed at once. She expressed optimism the numbers will expedite disposal of cases.
She said: “It’s the first of its kind [to have such a high number of judges appointed]. We have never had such appointments of judges and for so long we have been complaining that our judges are overwhelmed with a lot of work.
“I hope the coming in of these judges is going to help ease the judges and also work on the backlog.”
The appointments have increased the number of High Court judges from 27 to 35. On the other hand, the promotion of four High Court judges to the Supreme Court of Appeal has increased numbers in the highest court from seven to 11, according to Patemba.
Patemba said the High Court was designed to have 45 judges while Supreme Court of Appeal is expected to have 13 judges. This means that the High Court is faced with a shortfall of 10 judges.
Reacting to the appointments, Malawi Law Society (MLS) and 50:50 Campaign Management Agency last evening commended the President for hiring more judges and striving to achieve gender balance.
In an interview last evening, MLS honorary secretary Martha Kaukonde said: “The appointments are representative of the legal profession and a good reflection of the gender balance with well balanced combination of relatively young and more seasoned lawyers.”
She said most of the appointees have a remarkable track record and good reputation within the profession.
Said Kaukonde: “This, by and large, is a commendable cohort of judges. The four judges elevated to the Supreme Court have served the nation long and very well at the High Court level. Their reputation and vast experience at the High Court should, no doubt, enrich the final court of appeal.”
On his part, 50:50 Campaign Management Agency national coordinator Viwemi Chavula expressed excitement with the hiring of seven female judges out of the collective 16, saying it was a landmark.
He said: “We congratulate the appointed judges and the appointing authority for achieving 50:50 at High Court. It Is a landmark. It has never happened in our history. Recognising that it’s a process, we are looking up to more.”
Potani and Kamanga were members of the five-judge panel of the High Court sitting as a Constitutional Court that nullified the May 21 2019 presidential election and ordered a fresh election. The others were judges Redson Kapindu, Dingiswayo Madise and Mike Tembo.
With the sole female judge in the Supreme Court, Jane Ansah, retired, Kamanga will be the only woman among the 11 judges on the bench.
The panel has since won the 2020 Chatham House Prize for bravery in defending the Constitution and the President has since extended his congratulations.
MLS president Burton Mhango yesterday said the society was “very proud of our five brave judges and our Judiciary” and the recognition must propel the country as far as the rule of law is concerned.
Reacting to the global recognition, Potani said in an interview: “I and my colleagues feel very humbled and honoured. We dedicate the award to the entire Malawi Judiciary and indeed the Malawi nation.”
In March this year, former president Peter Mutharika also appointed three new High Court judges.