Malawi Chief Justice dismisses ‘coup’ plot charges

Malawi’s Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo has categorically denied any involvement in an alleged plot to thwart President Mrs. Joyce Banda’s ascendancy to the throne following the death of Bingu wa Mutharika in April.

The accusations of Munlo’s involvement took a new twist a few weeks ago when President Banda was quoted by a UK based paper The Guardian as saying she had information to the effect that the Chief Justice was geared to rape the constitution by swearing in DPP 2014 torch bearer Peter Mutharika as stand in president.

The Chief Justice has faced calls from civil society groups and the Malawi Law Society (MLS) to step aside in a bid to pave way for investigations regarding his role in the alleged coup plot.

Munlo: Denies involvement in coup plot

This is the first time the head of the judiciary has come out to comment on the issue ending weeks of silence.

In a statement issued by Munlo’s lawyers Samuel Tembenu and Patrice Nkhono at the weekend, the Chief Justice is quoted as saying he believes the allegations made against him are in bad faith and out of malice.

Reads part of the statement, according to The Nation newspaper: “The allegation of involvement by the Honourable Chief Justice is an allegation made against a person holding a constitutional office in Malawi.

“It is important for various reasons, including constitutionalism and observance of the rule of law, that constitutional due process be applied strictly in this matter.”

The statement added: “The allegation has the potential of negatively impacting on constitutionally guaranteed principles of separation of powers and judicial independence. For that reason, it is important that the matter be handled in a manner that does not threaten judicial independence in Malawi. The nation needs to know that respect for judicial independence is a public right that feeds directly from respect of the rule of law.”

Meanwhile, according to the paper, MLS secretary Bright Theu has wondered why Munlo has chosen to defend himself through the media.

Theu also denied receiving any communication from the Chief Justice on the issue neither has the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.

Munlo has since requested the Executive to formally lodge a complaint and substantiate the charges before the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) where he is the chairperson.

On calls for him to resign, Munlo’s lawyers have argued that, “whereas the principle of judicial independence does not negate judicial accountability and that officers are as much subject to public accountability as are other persons holding public office, the Chief Justice cannot therefore or be called upon to resign his chairmanship of the JSC while still holding the office as per provisions of the constitution.”

President Banda on Friday told parliament that she has set an inquiry into an alleged constitutional coup plot and that “depending on the outcome [of the inquiry], appropriate action will be taken for important lessons to be learned,”

“By public demand, I have decided to immediately set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the circumstances and intent of the alleged coup plot,” Banda said.

Mutharika, who had been president since 2004, died following a heart attack on Aril 5 and Banda was not sworn in until 07 April after two days of backroom dealing.

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