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Lawyers doubt court deadlines

...as new proposal limits judgement to 90 days after trial

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MPAKA — These things
are in the law

The Malawi Law Society (MLS) has doubted the effectiveness of a proposed provision in the Courts Act Amendment Bill to put fixed timeframes within which judges can deliver their verdicts after conclusion of cases.

The provision is widely seen as a way of dealing with widespread concerns on delays by some judges to deliver their verdicts after concluding hearing cases.

Section 9 of the proposed Courts Act Amendment Bill which, among others, also creates the special Financial Crimes Court and increases the mandatory retirement age of judges from 65 to 70 years, says judges would be required to deliver judgements within 90 days and rulings on interlocutory applications within 45 days.

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“Where a judge fails to deliver a judgement within the time stipulated under subsection 3, a party to the proceedings may report to the Judicial Service Commission about the contravention, for the commission to take an appropriate action on the matter,” the provision reads.

While Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda has hailed the proposal, saying it will ensure expeditious delivery of judgments, MLS president Patrick Mpaka is of the view that there is need to approach the issue of delayed judgements holistically.

“The provision will ensure expeditious and economic disposal of cases, corruption cases, in particular. Now, coupled with the creation of a special Financial Crimes Court and increasing the retirement age of judges, the move will help to deal with the cases expeditiously,” Nyirenda said.

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Mpaka on the other hand argued in a separate interview that the High Court Civil Procedure Rules and the Industrial Relations Court guidelines already have such provisions which are not followed most of the times.

He said what is needed is to revisit the Judicature Act and strengthen recruitment and disciplinary measures of judges.

“Actually, there is a comprehensive procedure that if a judge does not deliver a judgement within such days, we have a right to take up a notice to the court to explain why the judgement has not come out.

“This is already in the rules at the moment and we have done that. In my experience, no single judge has ever even given a date to those notices but these things are in the law. So what is happening is just pushing them from one piece of legislation to another,” Mpaka said.

He suggested that to fix the problem in the Judiciary, it is necessary to look at how effective enforcement of disciplinary standards is when a judge infringes on the standards.

“In any case, this provision does not bring anything new with regards to Civil Procedure Rules as they stand now,” Mpaka said.

Executive Director of Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance, Victor Mhango, concurred with Mpaka, saying enforcement of the provisions is paramount.

“For example, there are guidelines on the period of pre-trial custody. In murder cases, an accused person is supposed to be held for 60 days and if the trial does not start, the State can apply to the court for an extension of another 30. That is not followed most of the times. We have people waiting for trial for up to 10 years,” he said.

Mhango, however, hailed the proposed provision, saying taking too long to deliver judgements is torture to the parties involved.

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