People waiting to access justice in Malawi will have to bear with uncertainty, more costs or even time in custody following the Judiciary strike that has paralysed courts nationwide since Monday.
Judiciary junior staff have taken the action to force government to implement their conditions of service approved in 2006.
Meanwhile, government has said it has noted the matter and will engage senior Judiciary officials to resolve it. The authorities have not given any specifics or time frames.
Spot checks at High Court premises in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu cities showed that no business was underway.
In Mzuzu, lawyers and other people who sought justice were seen stranded outside in the rain whereas other court users were seen being attended to through windows.
In Blantyre, the judicial staff locked themselves in the High Court perimeter fence. They were seen sitting idle in groups, comparing notes, sharing jokes and other issues. The situation was same in other courthouses in Mzimba, Rumphi, Karonga, Mulanje, Zomba and Mangochi, among other judicial centres.
The strike involves support staff comprising, among others, court clerks, court marshals and court reporters.
Austin Kamanga, a representative of the employees, told The Nation at the High Court in Blantyre the staff will only resume duties after their demands are met in full.
Said Kamanga: “Parliament is supposed to review our conditions of service after every three years, which they did in 2006 and 2009, but up until now, they [the conditions] have not been implemented despite the approval.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The conditions of service in question include salary increment and medical cover promised in 2006 and 2009.
The strike, coming on the day public servants resumed work after a two-week festive shutdown, paralysed the justice delivery system as people failed to access court bails and have their matters heard.
Malawi Law Society president John-Gift Mwakhwawa said the strike will delay delivery of justice.
He, however, said he is sympathising with the Judiciary staff and has urged government to take the issue seriously by giving the employees what is due to them.
Mzuzu-based lawyer George Jivason Kadzipatike, who was among people locked outside the Mzuzu Court House, said he wanted to apply for bail for three suspects on remand. He said the closure of the court meant that his clients would continue suffering before they have either been tried or convicted.
He said if the strike continues, people will also not be able to get injunctions in serious and urgent cases.
Government spokesperson, who is also Minister of Information and Civic Education, Patricia Kaliati said the authorities have noted the strike and would engage senior Judiciary officials to resolve the matter.
The development has affected people in police custody who were scheduled to appear before the courts on Monday.
The strike is coming against the background of another Judiciary stand-off in which judges also have an interest as their 2006 perks issues have not been addressed.
In the background, there is also a civil service industrial issue that has been given three months for resolution. Civil servants earlier threatened to go on strike in protest of the seven percent across-the-board increment announced in July if Members of Parliament were given their 400 percent proposed increase.