Govt withdraws amendments on judges’ contracts, retirement age

Malawi judiciary

Malawi’s judges will not be retiring at 70 as proposed, neither will there be any need to employ judges on short-term contracts.

Instead, judges will retire at the age of 65 as is currently stated in the Constitution.  

Government through recommendations of the Special Law Commission had proposed amendments to the Constitution to move the retirement of age of judges upwards and to allow for judges to be employed on contract.

But the recommendations drew a lot of criticism from various quarters.

The Malawi Law Society (MLS) said it strongly disapproved of judges being appointed on fixed terms and called on Parliament to reject the proposal.

MLS chairperson Patrick Mpaka said: "One of the basic conditions for judges to retain their independence is that of security of tenure. Unless judges have long-term security of tenure, they are susceptible to undue pressure from different quarters, mainly those in charge of renewing their contracts.

"The Constitution settles this security of tenure for Malawian judges by placing sections 9, 103, 111 and 119 among the entrenched provisions of the Constitution."

On Wednesday, Ministry of Justice officials, MLS, the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament and the judiciary met to straighten out the issue.

“Following a meeting with the judiciary, it has been agreed to remove the amendment to introduce contract judges, the provision for retirement of judges also has not been introduced, that will not change,” reported chairperson of the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament Peter Dimba.

Leader of Government business in the house Richard Chimwendo Banda went on to clear the mist as commentators were arguing that the government was bulldozing its wishes on the people.

"The three issues [retirement age, appointment of judges on contract, appointment of a deputy Chief Justice] came from the judiciary. After consultations, the issues have been removed. We’re saying it was not the government proposing these things,” said Chimwendo Banda.

Member of Parliament for Zomba Malosa Grace Kwelepeta  praised the decision to maintain the retirement age for the judiciary saying as a youthful MP, the decision gives young people an opportunity to join the judiciary.

While the three issues have been struck off, the house still debated issue of introducing a deputy chief justice to facilitate work of the judiciary.