Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo, through his lawyers Patrice Nkhono and Samuel Tembenu, has dared critics to formally lodge and substantiate allegations that he was involved in a ‘coup’ plot after the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika.
Munlo denies the allegations that he and other judges were about to swear in Peter Mutharika as State President describing the allegations as having been made in bad faith and out of malice.
“What is now required is for the executive arm of government to formally lodge and substantiate the charges before the Judicial Service Commission. If there is no intention of doing this promptly, a statement should be made to the public that this matter is closed,” his lawyers demand in a statement.
The statement from Munlo’s lawyers come after some officials including President Joyce Banda told local and international media that the Chief Justice was complicit in what has been described as a coup attempt as he was allegedly about to swear in Mutharika.
This is the first time Munlo has publicly spoken out on the matter since Banda said she was informed by a cabinet minister of the intention of the former ruling party to anoint the former president’s brother as head of state.
“The allegation has the potential of negatively impacting on constitutionality 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 for the rule of law. The independence of the judiciary is an essential requirement of the judicial function and a guarantee of human rights and freedoms,” say Nkhono and Tembenu in the statement.
The Chief Justice has since ruled out resigning as chairperson of the Judicial Service Commission, saying he cannot be called to resign while he still holds the office of the Chief Justice.
“Whenever a charge of professional impropriety is made against a judicial officer, the powers of the Judicial Service Commission must be invoked as set out in the Constitution,” says the statement in part.
The statement therefore says calls to have Munlo resign as chairperson of the Judicial Service Commission is illegal, saying the Chief Justice can temporarily step down if the commission wants to probe him as he cannot preside over his own inquiry.
Munlo has also snubbed the Malawi Law Society for suggesting that Minister of Justice and Attorney General Ralph Kasambara should facilitate the Chief Justice’s removal as chairman of the Judicial Service Commission.
“The Honourable Minister of Justice and Attorney General is a member of the executive arm of government. His office has no role whatsoever to play on the Judicial Service Commission.
“If and when a formal complaint is lodged against the Chief Justice and the other judges, the Judicial Service Commission will deal with the matter in accordance with its constitutional mandate.
“By suggesting the involvement of the president and minister of Justice in the appointment of an acting chairman of the Judicial Service Commission is unwittingly encouraging interference by the executive arm of government with the work of the Judicial Service Commission,” says the statement.
The statement says the Judicial Service Commission is capable of determining the conduct of its duties and the performance of its function, saying it has the full capacity of regulating its own proceedings in matters if this nature without outside interference.
“The suggestion made by the Malawi Law Society has the potential for creating a threat to judicial independence and the rule of law in Malawi. The public may wish to know that judicial independence is the last safeguard set by our Constitution against political manipulation of the law and they may be well advised not to allow any erosion of judicial independence by the political arms of government,” says the statement.
The statement asks the government to name the other judges in the alleged coup plot and charge them accordingly.