Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda is yet to admit for practice two of the four South African lawyers that Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has hired for the presidential election nullification case.
High Court and Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal registrar Agnes Patemba said in a written response yesterday that the Judiciary has asked MEC, which wrote a letter asking for approval of the lawyers from the Chief Justice, to make a proper application.
Malawi Law Society (MLS) also wrote the Chief Justice last week recommending that the lawyers be admitted for practice as they have satisfied statutory requirements.
However, Patemba said it is only after a proper application has been made to the Judiciary that they will sit down and discuss it.
She said: “They have been advised to file a proper application and not a letter that was earlier on sent to the office of the Honourable Chief Justice. Once MEC files the application, we will set it down for hearing.”
MEC chairperson Jane Ansah last Thursday confirmed the hiring of the South African lawyers to lead the defence in the Supreme Court of Malawi following the Constitutional Court ruling that annulled the May 2019 presidential election and stated that Attorney General KalekeniKaphale should no longer represent the electoral body.
A document that has been seen indicates that MEC made a contract with a South African law firm Mboweni MalulekeInc Attorneys worth $788 500 (about K600 million).
This means that taxpayers will have to foot the bills of the four lawyers, legal costs and all other incurred costs. The lawyers are Gideon Phalatse, DumisaNtsebenza, SC, Elizabeth Makhanani Mere and CaphusMboweni.
When asked what role the foreign lawyers will play given that MEC has other local lawyers, MEC director of media and public relations SangwaniMwafulirwa said details would only be made available once hearing starts.
He said: “All details will be known when hearing commences but its common sense that the court ordered the lead lawyer for the commission to stop representing it.”
With MEC racing against time as full hearing of the appeal case is expected to start on April 15, critics have faulted the electoral body for not coming out clear on whether they have an alternative plan in the event that the lawyers are not admitted.
Dean of the Faculty of Law at Chancellor College Sunduzwayo Madise said MEC is supposed to have an alternative plan on lawyers representing them in the appeal case.
He said: “If they are not admitted for practice, then they can’t practice. As such, MEC would have to use either the lawyers they have or hire local ones. It is something MEC would have put in their plans as plan B in case they are not admitted.”
According to the recommendation letter MLS wrote to the Chief Justice, which was signed by honorary secretary Martha Kaukonde, she said they reviewed the lawyers’ application and found it satisfactory.
Reads in part the letter: “The Malawi Law Society has examined the application and it considers that the applicants have satisfied the statutory requirements and hence no objections. If it pleases you, my Lord Chief Justice, you may grant the application.”
But in an interview with The Nation last week, private practice lawyer John Gift Mwakhwawa said there was no reason for government to procure legal services from outside. In a February 3 ruling, the Constitutional Court nullified the May 21 2019 presidential election, citing irregularities and flouting of electoral procedures by MEC.