Malawi judicial officers protest Mbendera appointment at Justice of Appeal

Malawian judicial officers have ganged up against the appointment of Justice Maxon Mbendera, SC, as a Justice of Appeal describing it as unmerited, unjustifiable and unreasonable.

The officers are claiming that Justice Mbendera was too junior to be appointed as a Justice of Appeal because he has not yet attained the skills and competences required and expected of the office.

In a protest letter addressed to the chairman of the Judicial Service Commission, Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo, the judges and magistrates argue that the development will seriously compromise the integrity of the Supreme Court of Appeal as the highest court in Malawi.

They further argued that the move will also erode the respect that the Supreme Court enjoys amongst judicial officers, the legal profession and the public at large.

Mbendera: Justice of Appeal
Mbendera: Justice of Appeal

Titled “Concerns over recent appointments to the supreme court of appeal”, the three-paged letter which Nyasa Times has a copy, says the officers are very displeased and discontented with the appointment of Mbendera as the judge was number 22 on the chain of command as reflected in all the operations and activities of the Judiciary including number plates for Judges ’motor vehicles.“In the High Court there are 13 Judges who are senior to him. His appointment means that he has leaped over 11 Judges, most of whom have served as Judges much longer than him,” states the disapproval letter signed by Justice John Katsala, Interim President of the Magistrates and Judges Association of Malawi.

Justice Mbendera is said to have only served for a period of six months as a Judge before he was appointed as Attorney General in June 2010 by former President Bingu wa Mutharika.

After returning to the Judiciary, the officers observed, Justice Mbendera has just served for about seven months translating into a cumulative period of just about one year of service.

According to the letter, some of the Judges senior to Justice Mbendera who have also served as Judges for far much longer periods include Justice Frank Kapanda who has served for 12 years, Justices Healy Potani, John Katsala and Esmie Chombo (10 years) and Maclean Kamwambe, Ivy Kamanga and Joseph Manyungwa who have served for nine years each.

The disgruntled officers also claim that during his period as High Court Judge, Justice Mbendera had neither done a trial of a matter nor written any judgment.

“If he has, then we are yet to see the judgment,” declared the concerned judicial officers, adding “this means that the Judge has not yet acquired the skills and competence required and expected of a Justice of Appeal.”

The letter further states that it is the general consensus amongst the judicial officers that there is need for certainty in career progression within the Judiciary.

“Judicial officers must have the assurance that everything being equal, they stand the chance of progressing in the system. This is an important factor that will motivate judicial officers to work hard and commit themselves to duty,” states the letter in one of the paragraphs.

The officers say unless there are good and justifiable reasons for the omission of Justice Frank Kapanda in the recent appointments of Justices of Appeal, it is their view that the move was a serious omission which will negatively impact on the work ethics and motivation of judicial officers in Malawi.

Justice Mbendera was also appointed as Chairperson of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) by President Joyce Banda in October last year to replace Justice Anastazia Msosa who served for 10 years.

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