Ministry under fire over Judiciary Bills

Ministry under fire over Judiciary Bills

Ministry of Justice has once again come under the spotlight with the Malawi Law Society (MLS) and civil society organisations (CSOs) accusing it of choking justice by delaying tabling of Judiciary Bills in Parliament.

The Judicial Service Administration (JSA) Bill, among others, has provisions that would promote transparency and accountability in the appointment, execution of duties, transfer, discipline and removal of judicial officers and funding of Judicial Service Commission (JSC) without interfering with the constitutionally entrenched independence of the Judiciary. There is also a Constitutional Amendment Bill relating to the Judiciary.

Mpaka: Delay affects access to justice

MLS president Patrick Mpaka, in an interview on the sidelines of a meeting with the CSOs in Lilongwe yesterday, said while introducing the JSA Bill, there is also need to amend Section 12 and Section 118 of the Constitution to ensure the new law is in tandem with the supreme law.

He said: “Last year we were told that the Bills were ready for tabling, but almost two meetings of Parliament have gone and the Bills did not see any light to Parliament. Now our question is, why is the ministry sitting on these important Bills.”

The Bills were expected to be tabled in November 2023, but later pushed to the just-ended parliamentary budget meeting, but they are yet to be tabled.

Mpaka said the delay is hindering some sections of the society from accessing justice.

He said: “In the absence of the JSA law, judges are not accountable to anyone and this is a recipe for corruption. And if the Judiciary is not financially independent, that is when cases delay in the name of lack of funding.”

Mpaka said results from MLS consultations last year were submitted to the Ministry of Justice which drafted the Bills and the ministry was expected to take them to Parliament.

In an interview yesterday, Ministry of Justice spokesperson Frank Namangale admitted that the two Bills are still in the hands of the ministry, but clarified that the challenges that caused the delays had been rectified.

“In fact, these Bills are on the list of our priority Bills to be tabled in the next meeting. We had challenges that some key stakeholders had not yet been consulted and being important Bills, their input was crucial,” he said.

Youth and Society (YAS) executive director Charles Kajoloweka, who is also a representative of the CSOs on the matter, said in an interview the ministry’s response did not make sense.

“That is what they have been saying all along,” he said.

Kajoloweka said the CSOs are eager to see an end to “Judiciary impunity, corruption and inefficiencies”, so that justice delivery can be equal for all, and not selective.

Ministry of Justice Principal Secretary and Solicitor General Allison M’bang’ombe is on record as having said the two Bills were returned by Cabinet for further consultations; hence, the ongoing process.

He also told The Nation last month that the public was being misled that the ministry is delaying the Bills and that the Bills are meant to penalise judges, saying: “The Bill is not about removal or disciplining of judges, it’s talking about so many things like accountability, transparency, complaints procedures, like how people can complain about judicial officers.”

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