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Lawyer disbarred, more in line for indiscipline

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Chief Justice Rizine Mzikamanda Wednesday disbarred lawyer Maxwell Tembo for embezzling clients’ money.

Tembo was not physically present in the court when Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda moved Mzikamanda to strike him off the list of practising lawyers.

Tembo received various amounts of money from Prime Insurance for Livingston Masanjala, Peter Chikadza, Ezekiel Nkolokosa, Chifundo Kavalo and Affial Mothi amounting to about K7 million between 2015 and 2020 but did not remit the money to the clients.

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“This amounts to embezzlement and puts the legal profession in disrepute. The debarment is not necessarily to protect the legal profession only but the general public,” he said.

Nyirenda said Tembo had also been told to repay the money he embezzled with interest at the current commercial lending rate.

“It is an order of the court that he repays the money; so, if he fails, then there are processes which follow including bankruptcy or engagement of sheriffs,” he said.

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The hearing of another case pertaining to lawyer Richard Katsiche, who is also facing debarment, failed to take place as he served the objections of his debarment on the AG late.

Katsiche’s hearing has been adjourned to May 6.

Nyirenda said about 12 lawyers risk being debarred for various offences bordering on indiscipline.

The development comes at a time the Malawi Law Society (MLS) is challenging, in the Supreme Court of Appeal, a directive by the Registrar of Financial Institutions— who is Governor of the Reserve Bank of Malawi— that in case of success in civil matters, damages should be paid directly to clients instead of lawyers, a move which was widely seen as aimed to deal with thieving lawyers.

MLS challenges that this is a departure from provisions of the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act, which provides that the money be paid to the lawyer who then gives a client what is due.

MLS President Patrick Mpaka said MLS has, from January 2019, put in place a robust legal framework aimed at safeguarding and protecting the interests of the general public from a few bad apples among lawyers.

“You have seen, from 2019 onwards, that lawyers are being suspended for malpractices, which was not happening regularly in the past. I can say without fear of contradiction that the current legal framework does not protect any lawyer [found indulging in] malpractices including embezzling clients’ money.

“It is just a matter of strengthening the framework. In this case, the debate is whether we should completely bypass the framework which was put in place by the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act to protect the public or just strengthen it,” he said.

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