Judiciary meets Catholic Bishops

A high-level Judiciary delegation, led by the Honourable Chief Justice Rizine Robert Mzikamanda, SC on 27th June, 2024 paid a historic call on the Catholic Bishops. The delegation met the bishops, as the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), the umbrella body of the Catholic bishops, they were holding their second annual plenary.

During the interface, the Chief Justice condoled the Bishops and the Catholic Church in Malawi for the loss of the late Vice President, Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima who was their member. The Chief Justice also thanked the Catholic Church led by the bishops for giving the late Vice President an honourable send off.

The highlight of the meeting however came when the Chief Justice shared with the body of the Catholic bishops Judiciary’s 2019-2024 Strategic Plan for achieving its constitutional mandate of interpreting, protecting and enforcing the Constitution and all laws in accordance with the Constitution in an independent and impartial manner with regard only to legally relevant facts and the prescriptions of the law.

The Chief Justice said that the strategic plan identifies several thematic and reform areas. He added that the thematic areas include strengthened service delivery, adequately resourced and fiscally responsible judiciary, increased public confidence in the judiciary, strengthened institutional framework and capacity of the judiciary.

“The overarching goal for the judiciary is: expanded, inclusive, accountable, and speedy justice for all,” said the Chief Justice.

Apart from the themes, the Chief Justice shared with the bishops several reforms the Judiciary is undertaking. To begin with, he said that the judiciary is carrying out financial reforms, whereby it wrote the Secretary to the President and Cabinet requesting for change and increase in the number of national budget votes from one to five. He explained that budgetary funding for the judiciary has been between 0.5 and 0.6 percent of the national budget, and by the request the Judiciary wanted an increase in its funding. The Chief Justice however said that funding remains at 0.6 despite the increase of the votes to three.

Further, the Chief Justice informed the bishops that the judiciary is also initiating legislative reforms. He said that these reforms include the Judicial Service and Administrative Bill, which the Malawi Law Society has been touting as their own. He added, other legislation which the Judiciary, through the Judiciary Rules and Reforms Committee, has initiated include the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2022, the Courts (Amendment) Bill, 2022, the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code (Amendment) Bill, 2022.

Further to the above, the Chief Justice said that the Judiciary has created the Financial Crimes Division of the High Court to speed up financial crimes cases, and that it has also created the Probate and Family Division to speed up cases involving the vulnerable. Further to this, he said that the Judiciary has initiated the amendment of the Labour Relations Act to ensure that cases no longer delay due to challenges earlier experienced by employer and employee panellists.

The Chief Justice further informed the bishops that the Rules and Reform Committee is working on legislative reforms on elections. He said that these reforms are aimed at, inter alia, giving the Supreme Court of Appeal original jurisdiction to hear presidential election petitions in a timely manner.

Apart from the legislative reforms, the Chief Justice said that the Judiciary is also making administrative and development reforms. The administrative reforms include the creation of several committees, which include the Judiciary Complaints Handling Committee, the Digitalisation Committee, the Judiciary Institution Integrity Committee, the Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Section, the Public Relations Office, and the Judiciary Committee on Elections.   

As if the above is not enough, the Chief Justice added that the judiciary reforms also include the creation of the Judiciary Service Charter, the Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy, the Performance Appraisal System, and the operationalisation of the Functional Review.

The Chief Justice further shared with the bishops the Judiciary’s infrastructural reforms. These reforms include the judicial complex, which comprise the Judicial Institute in Dowa, and the main court complex at City Centre across the Parliament Building. The infrastructural reforms also include a Sheriff’s warehouse, the Chief Justice residence in Lilongwe, the completion of the Commercial Court in Blantyre, and the rehabilitation of district and satellite court buildings.

Despite the above reforms, the Chief Justice revealed that the Judiciary is facing several challenges. These include inconsistent and inadequate funding, delays in processing payments by the Accountant General’s office, delay and failure to fulfil contractual obligations of the judges, inadequate and dilapidated court buildings, capacity gaps due to inadequate funding for recruitment, shortage of utility motor vehicles and motorcycles, and failure by the public to report evidence of corruption to authorities.

Taking their turn, the bishops applauded the Judiciary for its high standards and independence in discharging its duties, which has resulted in its being respected regionally and internationally. The bishops therefore called upon the Judiciary to maintain these standards so that the trust that people have in it is not eroded.  

The bishops asked the Judiciary to eliminate pockets of inefficiencies that were manifest through missing files, unserved summons and delayed judgments. The bishops further pledged to support the Judiciary so that it remains honourable.

Apart from the Chief Justice, the Judiciary delegation comprised the Deputy Chief Justice, His Lordship Lovemore Chikopa, SC; Lady Justice of Appeal Ivy Kamanga, the Registrar of the High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal His Honour Kondwani Banda and the Chief Courts Administrator Mrs. Edith Chikagwa. The bishops included Archbishop George Tambala, who is the President of ECM, Archbishop Thomas Msusa, Bishop Alfred Chaima, Bishop Peter Chifukwa, Bishop Martin Mtumbuka, Bishop Peter Musikuwa and Bishop Montfort Sitima.



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