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One lawyer for over 42,000 Malawians

The Malawi Law Society (MLS) has said the fact that several government departments are unable to retain lawyers in their service is evidence enough that there is big demand for lawyers in the country.

MLS Secretary, Khumbo Soko, said although there could be about 800 to 1000 lawyers in the country, the number of lawyers with a licence to practice in the courts stand at around 330.

Soko was reacting to the question on the impact of the delays in tabling the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Bill which, among others, would ease up the process of admitting lawyers to the bar.

“This means each licenced lawyer serves about 42, 000 Malawians. While I am not aware of the recommended lawyer to citizens’ ratio for a country, it would appear that our numbers are rather abysmal. I am unable though to comment on the optimal number.

“There is one school of thought which holds that the number of lawyers we currently have is not as bad when one considers the size of our economy and levels of poverty among our people. But the fact that several government departments and the Judiciary are unable to retain lawyers in their service is evidence enough that there continues to be demand for lawyers out there,” Soko said.

It has been more than 12 years since the Malawi Law Commission finished the review of the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act of 1965 to enable law graduates from private universities in the country practice but the National Assembly is yet to deliberate on it.

According to the 1965 Act, University of Malawi’s Chancellor College is the only recognised institution for purposes of provision of training for lawyers in the country.

Soko said the reviewed law introduces quite a number of useful innovations including leveling of the playing field in the admission to practice and set minimum standards for law firms’ setting with more robust mechanism for disciplining lawyers.

“It’s quite a progressive piece of legislation that is why we have been aggressively lobbying the Ministry of Justice to ensure that it is deliberated in Parliament. We hope that it will be discussed in the November sitting of the National Assembly,” Soko said.

However, he said there is no bar to any institution offering legal training in Malawi but for such an institution to merit accreditation and recognition from the Legal Education Council it needs more.

“It has to meet rigorous standards relating to substance of its syllabus and curriculum, quality and depth of faculty (teaching and research staff) as well as sufficiency of basic resources such as text books, law reports and journal articles.

You seriously can’t hold out as running a law faculty when you do not even have a proper law library and faculty. It’s not how it works,” he said.

In an earlier interview, Blantyre International University (BIU) Director of Finance, Chikhulupiliro Chanthunya, said they expect a speedy review of the Act.

BIU law graduates complained that they are facing serious resistance from employers in both private and public sectors.

“This country is in a serious need of qualified lawyers. So, despite the business aspect of it, we introduced law studies because we know the country needs lawyers. Therefore, government should be quick in reviewing and implementing the Act to allow our law graduates practice in the country,” Chanthunya said.

In February last year, law graduates from private universities and colleges petitioned former President Joyce Banda to force her government table the reviewed Act.

Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Samuel Tembenu, said the ministry expects to table the Bill in the November Parliament session.

“We concluded the review and we are hoping to submit it to Parliament during the next session. And that review was done many years ago by the Law Commission and every stakeholder was consulted. The reviewed Act is looking at all aspects in Legal Education and institution accreditation in the country,” Tembenu said.

He also said the reviewed Act provides for the establishment of Legal Education Institute where the law graduates would be drilled before being admitted to the bar.

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