The diploma-in-law community has faulted the Malawi Law Society (MLS) for taking the issue of paralegals to court.
Paralegals have, through Legal Aid Bureau, been courting stakeholders, including Parliament, on the need to amend the Legal Aid Act so that they can be allowed to represent clients in subordinate courts.
Last week, MLS applied for leave of judicial review at the High Court on whether legal assistants should be allowed to represent clients in courts.
A statement from the MLS Executive Committee to members indicated that the application for leave of the judicial review had been filed with notice, meaning that the application was also served on respondents— in this case, Chairperson of the Legal Affairs Committee of the National Assembly and the Legal Affairs Committee itself.
However, MLS indicated that it had no problem with continued debate on the issue.
“To avoid curtailing any public debate while seeking binding legal guidance on legal issues noted by the executive, we have filed a With Notice Application for Permission and are not for the time being seeking any stay or injunction. Our hope is that the court will give the permission and provide a relevant guide to Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament in time,” indicated the letter dated September 16 and signed by Honorary Secretary Chrispin Ngunde.
However, this has not gone down well with diploma-in-law holders.
In a statement, which the diploma-in-law holders spokesperson Brian Mchenga has signed, they argue that their demand to be allowed to represent clients in subordinate courts is realistic.
“Access to justice is highlighted as one of the pillars of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 16 to be achieved by 2030. It aims at promoting the rule of law at national and international levels and ensures access to justice for all.
“Therefore, the stand taken by Malawi Law Society to refer the matter to court for judicial review smacks of selfishness and unpatriotic acts,” the statement reads.
Mchenga calls upon civil society organisations in the justice sector to support their cause and make a position statement on the matter.
“The assertion that we will compromise quality is far from the truth,” he says.
MLS President Patrick Mpaka, while saying he could not comment on the issue because it was in the hands of the courts, indicated that two things were crucial and worth mentioning about the statement.
“Section 11 referred to in this edition [the paralegals’ statement] is in the 1965 Act which was repealed and is no longer the law in Malawi. Section 11 in the new law, which came into force on January 1 2019, relates to, and regulates, allowances for Council for Legal Education.
“These petitioners are trying to influence the State President [Lazarus Chakwera] while misstating the law. Referring to laws actually repealed by Parliament perhaps makes our case as MLS much stronger that we, as a nation, must be cautious in seeking to make changes to settled positions. We must always have the humility to ask and defer to those that have the technical knowhow to help us navigate the challenges we face,” he said.