Stakeholders, including Malawi Law Society (MLS) and holders of law degrees from tertiary institutions other than Chancellor College of the University of Malawi (Unima), have welcomed the Bill seeking to liberalise legal education in the country.
In reaction to the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Bill which Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu is expected to table before Parliament, MLS said the law that only Chancellor College could train lawyers in Malawi has led to low numbers of lawyers, currently at 410.
MLS president Khumbo Soko said in an interview the status quo privileged those who went to Chancellor College at the expense of those other lawyers who trained elsewhere.
He said: “Opening up of legal training was, therefore, somewhat inevitable. It will be important, however, to emphasise that the goal of opening up the training of lawyers in Malawi should be tempered with the profound need to maintain strict and proper standards so that those who call themselves lawyers are ready for the enormous responsibility that society hoists on their shoulders.”
However, the society proposed that accreditation of institutions offering legal training should not be done by the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE).
Said Soko: “This task should be left to the Malawi Council for Legal Education which should instead act in consultation and on the advice of NCHE.”
Holders of law degrees from other institutions have also welcomed the proposal to have more institutions in the training of legal practitioners in the country, describing the move as long overdue.
Currently, there is a pending case at the Office of the Ombudsman in which law graduates of Blantyre International University (BIU) are seeking a determination that the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act, in its current form, denies Malawians the right to education.
However, the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Bill which Tembenu is expected to table before Parliament proposes a rectification of this provision.
In the new law, the Malawi Council for Legal Education would be mandated to accredit tertiary institutions wishing to offer law degrees but it would be compulsory for all graduates to undergo a one year postgraduate practical legal training.
A 2015 BIU law graduate, Brave Mwandira, said the proposed provision was a positive development because there were a lot of graduates who were suffering and remain unemployed even after attaining such legal qualifications.
However, the stringent measures that a person who holds a foreign law qualification has to go through have not changed.
Section 9 of the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act (2004) states that a person who qualifies to take the bar exam must hold foreign law qualifications obtained in a country that has a Common Law or practices Roman-Dutch law like South Africa.
The graduates described as a big joke leaving out England where the Malawi legal system came from and omitting countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria which have arguably more developed legal systems.
In Mwandira’s view, which the other BIU graduates endorsed, legislation should be clear on who would be responsible for accrediting institutions seeking to offer law qualifications. n