Chief Justice asked to recuse himself from Unima case

Malawi’s Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo will have no choice other than recussing himself from two appeal cases where the University Council of Malawi (Unima) Council is asking the Supreme Court to quash two lower court determinations that four fired Chancellor College lecturers be reinstated.

The four, associate professor Blessings Chinsinga, Professor Garton Kamchedzera, Franz Amin and Dr. Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula (JKK), were fired for being ‘ring-leaders’ in the campaign for “academic freedom” in institutions of higher learning, including the University of Malawi.

A senior legal practitioner in Lilongwe agreed with lawyer for the dismissed lecturers that Munlo’s conduct to receive communication from Unima Council chairman, Professor James Seyani, a party to the case, directing him to expedite the cases was unethical, particularly when Munlo made no disclosure to the defendants.

Munlo: Has to recuse himself

Lawyer for the lecturers and the Chancellor College Academic Staff Union, Bright Theu, on Wednesday submitted a motion before a three-member Supreme Court panel—Munlo, Atanazio Tembo and Edward Twea—the Chief Justice conduct would result in impartiality, which would jeopardize the administration of justice. He (Munlo) therefore will have to recuse himself from the matters, according to Theu.

“To receive correspondence in his administrative capacity from a party in a case telling him what to do and then be found on the panel in his judicial capacity is against legal procedure and unethical,” Theu argues.

In an interview with Nyasa Times on Thursday, the legal practitioner, who preferred anonymity, said in such circumstances, Munlo will have no other option other than replacing himself with another appeal judge.

“Unless he has personal and private reasons to stay on, the law is very clear under section 9 of the Republican Constitution, which provides that the court shall be independent and impartial in dealing with legal disputes,” the legal expert said.

In the letter, Professor Seyani asked the Chief Justice to expedite the cases and in it, the professor is alleged to have described the lecturers as “lecturers on an illegal strike” and that they “were dismissed for misconduct”.

Unima Council chairman is alleged to have written a letter to the Chief Justice to personally take charge and determine two of the council’s appeals, which effectively are against the re-instatement of four lecturers fired in June this year.

Nyasa Times recently quoted a senior judicial officer who said in normal circumstances, it is not allowed for a party to a court case to be in direct contact with a judge who is hearing the case.

Apparently, according to the officer, the Chief Justice is on the panel that is going to hear the October 5 appeal and “this (Professor Seyani’s letter to CJ) renders the whole process suspicious”.

The officer further said that Munlo has recently “spat fire” on the registrars and court clerks for not expediting the processing of the Unima council appeals until the October 5 date was arrived at. As a result, he said, the registrars and the court clerks had to hurry preparing the documents for the appeal.

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