The Malawi Law Society (MLS) has recommended a holistic review of laws governing the works of the judiciary following the amendment of the Courts Act, which has introduced timelines in the delivery of judgments
MLS Honorary Secretary Chrispin Ngunde said the introduction of timelines is a welcome development and if complied with, it may improve the pace of delivery of judges.
However, Ngunde said apart from compliance with the timelines, there are many factors that can improve the pace of justice delivery.
“On the other hand, we recommend that the Law Commission should do a holistic review of the laws governing the works of the Judiciary because, apart from the compliance with timelines, improving the pace of justice delivery in our courts depends on a number of factors. Compliance with the set timelines may only address a small fraction of the problem of backlog but cannot address other many challenges facing the justice system,” he said.
Speaking on the side-lines of the Magistrates and Judges Association of Malawi (Majam) conference in Blantyre on Thursday, Majam Board Chairperson Judge Frank Kapanda said from the day the bill was assented to by the country’s president; it is expected of any judicial officer who has dealt with a matter to deliver a judgment within 90 days.
“So it is not like they [Parliament] have given us a deadline but rather that every case when it comes before courts and you have heard all parties and all evidence presented it is expected that there be a timeline that you must then be in a position to deliver a judgement in space of 90 days. Unlike in the past, a judge or magistrate would handle a matter and nobody would tell you when you are supposed to hand in your decision but this time around from the moment the bill was assented to going forward the people have spoken through this piece of legislation you cannot just keep waiting you have to hand down your judgment,” he said.
Kapanda said the timelines are attainable because now there is a law in place which will force them to abide by it.
“It is attainable. What used to happen is duty officers were allowed to sit back because there was no law forcing you to do anything naturally even yourself when you are not given a deadline what do you do? You just sit back and work on your stories at your own pace. But one other thing we need to note is that in the immediate past we did not have enough judicial officers on the ground and lately there have been so many appointments and this year alone there have been at least three batches of judges appointed and in the magistrates there have also been a lot of appointments and also we district magistrates in every district so that we improve on delivery and also quality of judgments,” he said.
Commenting on the development, Chairperson for the Parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee Peter Dimba said the challenge is that in the absence of the Judicial Service Commission Act, it is difficult to take to task judicial officers who contravene it.
“The Courts Act as amended has stipulated the period within which judgement is supposed to be delivered after the conclusion of the proceedings and given liberty to any party of the proceedings to report to the Judicial Service Commission for the JSC to take appropriate action should there be a contravention.
“However, we have a lacuna in the law in the sense that we still do not have in place a Judicial Service Commission Act that should’ve spelt the kind of disciplinary action on the Judicial Officers who contravene this section of the Courts Act,” he said.
Over the years, there have been complaints of backlog cases at the judiciary that take time to be cleared