The Malawi Law Society (MLS) on Friday hosted a public lecture in Blantyre under the theme ‘Living our Constitution Aspirations: Thoughts on Judicial Accountability’ presented by Chancellor College-based associate professor of law Edge Kanyongolo.
MLS said the public lecture sought to initiate a national dialogue on the constitutional imperative of upholding judicial independence without, at the same time, casting aside the obligation for those who exercise judicial powers of the State to be accountable.
During the lecture attended by, among others, Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal judge Frank Kapanda and several judges of the High Court of Malawi, Kanyongolo said the fact that judgements are checked at other levels signifies the robust accountability that exists with the Judiciary.
Kanyongolo, who pleasantly lectured in the presence of his wife Ngeyi—who also teaches law at Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi—and his father as part of the audience, said the independence of the Judiciary is also displayed by the fact that the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament cannot summon judges to question their decisions.
He said if that were to happen, the judges’ independence would be compromised. He said individual judges account for their decisions by giving reasons.
The law professor said there is still talk among members of the public when judges give decisions that are obscure, adding that sometimes when judges hold different views or decisions on a similar matter, the public is left confused.
Kanyongolo also took time to talk about misrepresentation of facts in the media about cases the Judiciary handles which he warned have a huge negative impact, but added that whatever the case, the Judiciary bears the responsibility.
He said the decision by the Judiciary to appoint a spokesperson was a move in a right direction, but advised that more has to be done, especially improving the quality of channel of the information.
Said Kanyongolo: “We have to question ourselves: What can be done with judgements that are not delivered on time? What can we have in place to ensure justice is delivered on time?”
He said while tools to ensure accountability exist, there are possibilities of hijacking than to settle political interests, such as what happened in early 2000s when Parliament wanted to remove three High Court of Malawi judges Dunstan Mwaungulu, Anaclet Chipeta and the late George Chimasula Phiri.
He said Parliament may have had genuine reasons to ask the judges account for the decisions but wondered if that was the way to do it. He said after a long fight through MLS and other sectors, it was heartening the move was not successful.
As the public discussed the lecture, Kapanda assured that noticeable strides were being made on delayed judgements, citing new requirements that judgements must be delivered within 90 days after hearing of a matter, and rulings (on matters heard in chambers) be delivered within 30 days.
He said if that fails, judges are required to invite all parties in a matter and explain to them why a judgement or a ruling could not be delivered within those specified periods, and deliver the same within 15 days.
The process of appointing judges was also questioned by one member of the public, David Kanyenda, a private practice lawyer, who said more needs to be done by the Judicial Service Commission to make the appointments credible.
In his closing remarks, MLS president Khumbo Soko thanked Kanyongolo for accepting to lecture for free. n