Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda has announced that the private practice lawyers which the State has hired in the Martha Chizuma interdiction injunction case are offering their services for free. There are questions about this arrangement.
Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda’s statement that the lawyers which the State has engaged to fight an injunction against Martha Chizuma’s interdiction are offering their services pro bono has stirred questions.
The State, through the Attorney General’s office, announced earlier in the week the hiring of private practice lawyers George Kadzipatike, Chancy Gondwe and Kalekeni Kaphale to take up a case in which the Malawi Law Society (MLS) obtained an injunction against government’s interdiction of Chizuma, Director General of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).
So far, Kadzipatike and Gondwe are the ones seen active on the case filing documents appealing the rejection of their application to have the MLS injunction stayed.
Friday, Nyirenda announced that the two lawyers are working probono. That has ignited questions.
When asked to confirm that he was offering free services and for what interest, one of the lawyers, Gondwe, said he could not disclose what he called “privileged information”.
“I can’t disclose that information. That is privileged information between myself and my client. I respect the confidentiality that I owe my client on this.
“Lastly, I have no instructions from my client to talk to the media on that subject,” he said.
According to Legal Education and Legal practitioners Act, a matter shall qualify for pro bono legal service if that service benefits:
- a disadvantaged individual
- a charitable organisation
- the general public
We asked the Attorney General whether the hiring of the private practice lawyers to offer free service to State fits in this frame and also his reaction to civil society organisations and other stakeholders who have questioned the arrangement.
He said it is a requirement for all private practising lawyers in the country to conduct a free service before renewing their licences.
“The civil society organisations are entitled to their interpretation of the law but let them be assured that all legal processes were followed,” he said to a question whether his arrangement followed procurement procedures in the public service.
But another Lilongwe-based private practice lawyer who did not want to be named said since the rules as to who and what qualifies for free legal service are clear in the Act, the Attorney General’s arrangement raises serious questions.
“Is the Secretary to President and Cabinet or Chief Resident Magistrate or Police Prosecutor who these private practice lawyers are representing disadvantaged individuals or charitable organisations? Clearly no,” the lawyer said.
The lawyer further said neither does the engagement hold on the question of general public interest.
“How does government interdicting its own reputed champion in the fight against corruption benefit the public? How can defending such a cause qualify as a pro bono service?” said the lawyer.
According to the lawyer, the AG may have made the announcement in a bid to run away from being accused of breach of procurement laws.
South-Africa based law professor Danwood Chirwa said civil society organisations and all others are justified in questioning the AG’s statement that the two lawyers are offering their services for free.
“We know that Malawian lawyers have a warped understanding of pro bono work. More concerning is that a case for which the AG has appointed private practitioners is about stifling the ACB and its Director General so that they do not carry out their anti-corruption crusade,” Chirwa said.
At a press briefing Friday, 10 civil society organisations said they are not convinced with the Attorney General’s announcement that government is not paying any penny to the two lawyers.
The CSOs were addressing the press on the outcome of their meeting with the Nyirenda on Thursday.
The CSOs which include Youth and Society (Yas), Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency (Csat), Centre for Human Rights Rehabilitation (CHRR), Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) and Women Movement among others held a closed door meeting with the Attorney General with regard to Chizuma situation and the fight against corruption in general.
At the press briefing Friday, the CSOs expressed surprise at the arrangement and questioned the interest of the lawyers to offer their services for free to government.
“There is no way private lawyers can allow to be hired to represent a case for free,” said Charles Kajoloweka, Yas Executive Director.
“Pro bono is only done to people who cannot afford to pay legal fees for their case. What is their interest? And why is government so keen to work on this case with speed? He asked.
At the press briefing, National Anti-Corruption Alliance chairperson Moses Mkandawire said the civil society are scheduled to meet the Chief Justice to discuss with him over what they think frustration the judiciary has created in the fight against corruption.
He said there are many corruption cases that have stalled in the judiciary system and they want to hear from the Chief Justice on what they are doing about it.