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Malawi Law Society awaits funding on pro-bono services

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Patrick Mpaka

By Wezzie Gausi:

The Malawi Law Society (MLS) says it is waiting for financial support from well-wishers for lawyers to start providing pro-bono services nationwide.

Earlier this year, the society issued a statement calling for lawyers to register for the provision of pro-bono services, an exercise billed to be taking place once or twice a year.

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Last year, a proposal to allow paralegals to be representing clients in surbordinate courts opened a can of worms, resulting in MLS referring the issue to the courts.

MLS President Patrick Mpaka told The Daily Times Sunday that they have 50 lawyers on standby.

He said MLS will be working closely with Legal Aid Bureau (Lab) and that they had an initial planning meeting with bureau officials on September 29 2022.

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“Key action points were agreed and the main issue at the moment is funding. We have developed the concept and are currently looking for financial support to effectively and sustainably implement the plan at the scale envisaged.

“By the time of the rollout, we expect the number of lawyers to grow to at least 100 because, obviously, there will be more excitement and more understanding of what we are doing,” Mpaka said.

Recently, Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament Chairperson Peter Dimba described the move by MLS as commendable.

Dimba said MLS members had always offered pro bono services in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the annual renewal of their practising licenses.

“This, however, has nothing to do with the issue of allowing paralegal officers at the Legal Aid Bureau to have limited right of audience before subordinate courts.

“The Legal Aid Bureau currently has about 25,000 cases in its in-tray. So, even if all the MLS members, who are about 900, dedicated more hours to pro-bono services, the need for more legal officers at the bureau would still be there,” Dimba said.

The initiative comes after Legal Aid Bureau started advancing the idea that paralegals be allowed to represent clients in subordinate courts.

Last year, Legal Aid Bureau officials and human rights advocates were agitating for the amendment of some provisions of the Legal Aid Act, claiming that the services of private practice lawyers were more expensive than those offered by the Legal Aid Bureau.

The bureau had, at that time, proposed to Parliament to amend Section 14 of the Legal Aid Act to allow paralegals to practice in subordinate courts. The bureau indicated that there was a backlog of 23,000-plus cases but it only has 25 lawyers and 36 paralegals in its books.

However, MLS sought the courts’ intervention.

A statement from the MLS Executive Committee to its members indicated at the time that an application for leave of the judicial review had been filed with notice— meaning that the application was also served to the respondents who are Chairperson for the Legal Affairs Committee of the National Assembly and the Legal Affairs Committee.

“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,” reads the letter dated September 16 2021 and signed by Honorary Secretary Chrispin Ngunde.

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