Malawi lawyers hold protests to support striking clerks

Malawi lawyers across the country Monday came out in their court regalia to protest in major cities with a view to pressurizing government into acting on the on-going judiciary strike.

Although the strike, in its third week Monday, mainly involves junior staff, it has paralysed the southern Africa’s court system as judges and magistrates cannot work without stenographers, court reporters, court marshals and clerks.

“We decided as members of the Malawi Law Society to come to the courts today to show our solidarity with junior members of staff at the Judiciary who are on strike because of the non-implementation by the Executive arm of government of the review of conditions of service and salaries that were approved in 2006,” John Gift Makhwawa, president of the Malawi Law Society, said at the main High Court and Supreme Court registry in the commercial capital, Blantyre.

Lawyers: On protests

He said: “We are here to increase pressure on the Executive arm of government to take this issue seriously and abide by the law because the review of conditions of service and salaries for the Judiciary, that is including judges, is a matter of law, it is guaranteed under the Constitution.”

Makhwawa said government was flouting the Constitution by ignoring the review, adding that the lawyers’ body was worried because “a very important arm of government is being paralysed” because of government inaction on the Judiciary workers’ strike.

Malawi has a three-tier government comprising the Executive (the President and Cabinet), Parliament (where Members of Parliament sit) and the Judiciary.

According to Malawi laws, parliament has to review salaries and conditions of service of the Judiciary workers every three years. Since 2006, another review took place in 2009 and another one is supposed to take place in 2012 but, according to Makhwawa, none were implemented.

The lawyers, decked up in white wigs, black robes and white flaps and dressed in dark suits, held a procession around the court premises as the striking workers cheered them on.

Business came to a stand-still at the Chichiri business district – where the High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal have their headquarters – as onlookers, traders and workers in the adjourning offices came out to watch the spectacle.

Kamuzu Chibambo, Senior Partner of Chibambo and Company, said the strike had turned back justice in the country.

“This is because of intransigence of the Bingu (wa Mutharika) administration,” he said. “This is a sign of bad governance. Parliament approved conditions of service for the Judiciary so it is bad governance for the Executive not to implement the same.”

Chibambo, who is also president of the opposition Peoples Transformation Party (PETRA), said the Mutharika administration had its priorities wrong.

He said the courts are important because they are “oil for democracy as they interpret laws and offer checks and balances to the system”.

Meanwhile, police spokesman Dave Chingwalu has said most police cells are congested since no remandees are being released.

Ministry of Justice spokesperson Apoche Itimu said authorities were looking into the workers’ demands.

She would not say when government would address the striking workers, whose spokesman Austin Kamanga, said that nothing significant had happened since the strike begun on 9 January.

She said a committee of the workers met authorities on 12 January but “nothing tangible came out.”

“Because we are not satisfied that meeting didn’t deliver anything as members of staff we have resolved to continue with our strike,” she said.

“Government is the determinant as to when we should go back to work because they know fully well that they are supposed to implement our demands in full, it’s a legal position, it’s something we can’t debate about.”

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