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Africa on Peter Mutharika’s neck over Judiciary attack

MATONGA

The Southern African Chief Justices’ Forum (SACJF) and 60 law professors and academics across Africa have criticised President Peter Mutharika for what they call his government’s continued assault on Malawi’s Judiciary.

They were responding to statements by Chief Secretary to the Government Lloyd Muhara that Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda and Justice of Appeal Edward Twea would be proceeding on leave pending retirement having accumulated more leave days than those that remain on their tenures.

In a statement released Monday, SACJF said as leaders of judiciaries in their respective countries, the Chief Justices are concerned with the recent developments which appear to undermine the independence of the judiciary and individual judges.

“We note that the notices from the Chief Secretary were not issued by the appropriate authorities, namely the Chief Justice himself, or the Judiciary. Instead, an official of the Executive arm of government issued the notices.

“The government’s notices do not indicate whether or not the decisions to go on leave were made voluntarily by the Chief Justice and Justice Twea, respectively,” the statement reads.

The Chief Justices further fault Mutharika for intimating in his recent State of the Nation Address that Parliament is more supreme than the courts.

“The Constitution is Malawi’s supreme law, and it provides for three separate though mutually interdependent arms of government. Under the Constitution, the independence of the Judiciary, to apply the law impartially, is expressly guaranteed.

“Given the above facts and constitutional position, we are therefore concerned that the government’s notices and the purported placement of the Chief Justice and Justice Twea on leave pending retirement, is an attempt to interfere with the independence of the Judiciary in Malawi,” reads the statement.

Separately, a statement by the law professors and academics says the body is equally concerned with the coordinated attempts by the Executive arm of government to undermine the Judiciary.

“We are extremely concerned that the Chief Secretary to the Cabinet has issued a public notice and written personal letters to the Chief Justice, Mr Andrew Nyirenda, SC, and Justice of Appeal Mr Edward Twea, SC, ordering them to take leave pending their retirement and intimating that the President will appoint a new Chief Justice. These actions constitute an unprecedented assault on judicial independence in Malawi,” the statement says.

Meanwhile, quasi-religious organisation Public Affairs Committee (Pac) has also weighed in on the matter, stating that an assault on the Judiciary defeats the wheels of democracy.

According to Pac, no reasonable person would tread on the judicial terrain in the manner that stifles the security of the tenure of office for the Judges.

“The recent pronouncement to force the Chief Justice to proceed on leave pending retirement is the most disastrous decision that lacks depth as well as content in the eyes of the law and public policy.

“In light of the doctrine of separation of powers such communications on forced leave raise a lot of eyebrows especially now that Malawi will hold fresh presidential polls. The timing for such a decision is simply wrong,” Pac says in a statement released yesterday, signed by chairperson Patrick Thawale and Publicity Secretary Gilford Matonga.

The institution states that leaders must not test the waters “at this critical juncture” as “the reality is that the mood of the country has changed, and therefore let us accept and respect people’s will as we move towards the voting day. Malawians have tolerated enough and time has come to fight for the common good”

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