By Jameson Chauluka, Audrey Kapalamula, Feston Malekezo & Tiyese Monjeza:
Lawyers and some ‘concerned’ Malawians Wednesday marched in the country’s cities of Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Blantyre and Zomba in an unprecedented move against President Peter Mutharika’s government’s attack on the Judiciary.
The Executive arm of government—led by Mutharika— has come under heavy criticism of late after Chief Secretary to the Government Lloyd Muhara recently announced that Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda would be proceeding on leave pending retirement apparently because the top judge has accumulated more days than those remaining on his tenure.
The same notice was issued for Supreme Court of Appeal judge, Edward Twea, who is second in rank at Malawi’s highest court.
But the Judiciary rejected Muhara’s notice, stating that issues to do with conditions of service of the judges slip from the Executive’s fold immediately after the president appoints the judicial officers.
Yesterday’s marches attracted prominent, seasoned and up-and-coming lawyers, legal scholars, human rights activists and other ‘well-wishers’ who thronged the four cities with placards bearing various messages with a common theme that the Judiciary should be left to operate independently.
In Blantyre, prominent lawyer Mordecai Msisha said threatening the independence of the Judiciary is threatening the very basis of Malawi’s democracy.
“There cannot be a country if a judge will fear for his job if he rules one way or another. The very election case which has just been resolved could not have been independently handled. The election could not have been nullified if our courts were not independent,” Msisha said.
He was referring to the presidential election petition case which he and other lawyers successfully argued and compelled the courts to nullify Mutharika’s last year’s re-election.
Several other lawyers such as former presidents of Malawi Law Society John Suzi Banda and John Gift Mwakhwawa spoke at the Blantyre High Court complex after marching from Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital through Chipemphere Highway.
In Lilongwe, the march commenced from Mbowe to the High Court premises where the lawyers presented their grievances to the office of the Registrar of the High court.
Chikosa Silungwe, who led the legal team for Vice-President and UTM leader Saulos Chilima in the election case, said the Executive must exercise its obligation within the limits of the constitutional provision.
“It is the most diluted action by a public officer I have seen to sit down and issue such a notice. You cannot remove the Chief Justice through a notice. Chief Justice Nyirenda and Justice Twea will remain in office,” Silungwe said.
Lawyers Allan Chinula and Nkhwima Mchizi also voiced out their concerns over what they called increasing attacks on the Judiciary by the Executive.
In Mzuzu, thousands of people joined the lawyers in marching for the independence of the Judiciary from Shoprite Roundabout to Mzuzu Court House.
Reading a one-page petition at the court house in front of the people who had turned up for the demonstrations, private-practice lawyer Victor Gondwe said the independence of the Judiciary at law cannot be interfered with.
“Whether they want it or not, the Chief Justice is going nowhere, even if it means going to court. After all, an injunction is already there [stopping the actions],” Gondwe said.
In Zomba, law professor at Chancellor College, Garton Kamchedzera, said legal practitioners and scholars will not relent in their quest to defend the independence of the Judiciary from the interference of the Executive arm of government.
Various law experts such as Ngeyi Kanyongolo, Edge Kanyongolo and Gustavo Kaliwo and political scientist Blessings Chinsinga made speeches along the way to the High Court in the former capital city.
Apart from the lawyers, other organisations such Church and Society and Human Rights Defenders Coalition joined the demonstrations.
On Tuesday night, Minister of Information Mark Botomani issued a statement in which he insisted that Nyirenda has to proceed on leave where the Chief Justice may concentrate on writing books and his biography.
But according to Gondwe, such insistence could be tantamount to contempt of court as there are orders restraining the action.
“The two orders of the court still stand and the minister can be held accountable because that is completely wrong and illegal. Even if it was not for the court order, the Constitution itself is clear that there shall be no any form of interference to the Judiciary,” he said.
Meanwhile, the lawyers have threatened to continue with the protest if the Executive does not stop its attacks on the judges.
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