Malawi Law Society (MLS) has before its disciplinary committee 35 cases pending disciplinary hearing.
In its 2019 annual report, MLS recorded 209 complaints and, out of that, 35 are before the committee for disciplinary hearing, 32 are yet to go for conduct meeting, 85 were closed and 57 lack proper updates.
In an interview Thursday, MLS president Burton Mhango said most cases emanated from personal injury claims where clients were not getting updates from lawyers on progress of their cases.
“They are mainly about misunderstandings between legal practitioners and clients on the legal costs. Our disciplinary committee has been active throughout the year conducting disciplinary processes against our lawyers and most cases are being disposed of quickly.
“While it is true that we registered a number of complaints in 2019, the better side of the story which must be recorded is that there was a drop in the complaints against our members as compared to previous years,” he said.
Mhango said if lawyers are found with cases to answer, penalties from Section 96(1) of the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act are imposed on them.
“These include recommendation to the Chief Justice that the legal practitioner be struck off the roll; suspension of the lawyer; order the lawyer to pay fine; admonishment, or the disciplinary may also recommend to the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider criminal prosecution of the lawyer,” he said.
Quizzed on whether the society engages the public on awareness to reduce cases of clients being swindled by lawyers, Mhango said MLS safeguards the rule of law and, as such, its mandate is to protect the public.
“I think we have done enough public awareness through our various public statements on matters concerning rule of law in Malawi.
“Perhaps the one new area that the public may now wish to know is that lawyers in Malawi are offering free legal services through the pro bono programme that is being conducted in liaison with Legal Aid Bureau. It is, however, only Malawians qualified for legal aid that will be able to be assisted under the pro bono programme,” he said.
Last week Friday, during MLS annual general meeting, Justice John Katsala, Judge President of the High Court Commercial Division, challenged MLS to promote sanity in the law profession by ensuring that errant lawyers face disciplinary action to encourage professionalism in their day-to-day business.
Katsala, who was the guest speaker at the conference and delivered a speech titled ‘Where is That Lawyer’, challenged the delegates to be professionals who can be trusted to bring hope and sanity in the country.
Katsala also called on the society and other senior legal practitioners to train and orient up-and-coming lawyers on professionalism and court practices.
Katsala said lawyers are stakeholders in the justice system by law and professional saying they are officers of the court and, as such they must act like it.
“I was reminding the lawyers that, as professionals, they need to remain professional in their day-to-day business. There are many issues, for example, simple issues like the way they groom themselves, their dressing, training and orientation on court practices.
“I have noticed that most of the times, especially for the young lawyers, they are not very well prepared for their appearance in court, so we tend to face some glitches and even the quality of representation that they display is not up-to-date,” he said.
The disciplinary committee of MLS is established by the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act, under Section 90.
The committee has powers to inquire into the conduct of legal practitioners at the request of the High Court and on a complaint made by any person stating grounds on which High Court could make an order under Section 89 against a legal practitioner.
MLS is an umbrella body of all legal practitioners in the country.
The society has a combined functionality of being the association of professional lawyers on the one hand and regulator of the legal profession on the other hand.