Parliament Tuesday passed the Courts Act Amendment Bill of 2022 after an intense debate which lasted about two hours.
If the bill is assented to by President Lazarus Chakwera, the country will see the retirement age of judges raised from 65 to 70, the creation of a Financial Crimes division in the High Court and scraping off of the Fourth Grade Magistrate courts.
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Titus Mvalo said government seeks to have more mature judges with vast experience at appellant level.
He said since the retirement age for magistrates is 70 years, it is illogical for judges to retire before magistrates.
“Increasing the age limit would facilitate the judges to excel in their services like their counterpart judges in comparable foreign jurisdictions…
“At the age of 65 years, most Judges are still very resourceful and their services are still needed at the bench, so why should the Judiciary lose quality judges at the age of 65 years and pay retirement costs for judges with extensive experience who can still do the job?” Mvalo said in his presentation.
On the creation of the Financial Crimes Division in the High Court, the Justice Minister said the move resonates with last week’s passing of the Corrupt Practices Act Amendment Bill which, among other things, aims at seeing the expediency of corruption cases in the county’s courts.
He said after Malawi has a law that allows the Anti- Corruption Bureau to prosecute cases without waiting for consent from the Director of Public Prosecutions, there is need for specialised courts to preside over the cases.
“The bill establishes a new division of the High Court, namely, the Financial Crimes Division which shall have jurisdiction to hear any corruption matter or financial crime matters,” he said.
While supporting it, spokesperson for the Democratic Progressive Party on legal matters Yusuf Nthenda said the bill should go back to the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament for further review saying it had some inconsistencies.
He said raising the retirement age for judges in a way indicates loss of trust in the younger crop of judges, a thing which he said should not be encouraged.
Member of Parliament for Zomba Malosa Grace Kwelepeta corroborated Nthenda sentiments, saying if the government raises the retirement age for judges, the same should apply to all professions like teachers, architects, nurses and doctors.
“Let us not be selective; in this case, we are allowing one profession to feel more superior than others. Let us raise retirement ages for all public officers, otherwise we have young judges that are doing great things and should be encouraged,” Kwelepeta said.
Spokesperson for the United Democratic Front Lillian Patel supported the bill saying the migration of judges from Malawi to other jurisdictions where they continue to practice is a sign that they are pushed out of service prematurely.
She however lamented the backlog of cases in the country’s courts.
Meanwhile, the bill has also extended the jurisdiction of subordinate courts to deal with civil claims arising from personal injuries.