University Lecturers snub Chief Justice Munlo

Lawyer representing Chancellor College Academic Staff Union (Ccasu) Bright Theu stunned a panel of Supreme Court of Appeal judges in Blantyre on Wednesday when he asked Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo to recuse himself from presiding over the case.

The lawyer argued that the Chief Justice might be partial in handling the case.

Munlo, together with judges Atanazio Tembo and Edward Twea, are presiding over two appeal cases in which Council of the University of Malawi is appealing against earlier High Court rulings not to vacate injunctions against the firing of four lecturers at Chancellor College as well as implementing President Bingu wa Mutharika’s order forcing lecturers to resume teaching.

However, Theu said the presence on Munlo on the panel will jeorpadise the administration of justice as he is said to have received correspondence from Chairman of the Council (the appellants in the case) James Seyani directing him on what to do with the case.

“It is an application that the Chief Justice may recuse himself from the panel. Respondent (Ccasu) has reasonable grounds to suspect that the matter may not be determined with impartiality as is required in the administration of justice,” said Theu in his motion for Munlo to recuse himself from the case.

Theu further argued that it is against legal procedure and undermines the integrity of the Chief Justice and the whole Judiciary for him to receive correspondence in his administrative capacity from a party in a case telling him what to do and then be found on the panel in his judicial capacity .

Seyani wrote the Chief Justice asking him to expedite the case, but Theu faulted the action and the contents of the letter, which he argues, contain “value laden words” that can influence the judge’s decision.

He also said Ccasu was suspicious of how the court was jerked into action immediately after the Chief Justice received Seyani’s letter.

“The letter used phrases like “lecturers on an illegal strike” and that “lecturers were dismissed for misconduct”, which he argues are among the determining factors of the outcome of the case.

“As it happens we have now at the panel my Lord Chief Justice sitting in his Lordships judiciary capacity to adjudicate matters in which he received correspondence in his administrative capacity. Section 9 of the constitution says the court shall be independent and impartial in dealing with legal disputes. The fact that the letter was written by the office of the appellant direct to the Chief Justice and was not copied to respondents, could also be suspicious.

“The event leading to settling down to this appeal follows only after the letter was written, and the manner in which the record was set is suspicious. The appeal was scheduled before necessary documents were ready, that is, before the appellant and respondent had filed skeleton arguments,” argued Theu.

But Justice Tembo said the Chief Justice passed on the letter to him as the one who assigns judges at the Supreme Court.

“Judge in charge assigns judges at random. We don't ask which judge wants a certain case. I use my discretion of the office to assign various judges for various cases,” Tembo defended the panel.

Lawyer for Council Alfred Majamanda asked the judge to dismiss the motion to recuse himself, saying it has no basis since the letter did not ask the Chief Justice to preside over the case as was rumoured.

“The letter in question did not in any way request the judge to sit in the panel. Such being the case, we expect the motion for recusing to be withdrawn,” Majamanda said.

The court was adjourned to a day to be announced later when the Chief Justice will announce whether he will recuse himself or not.

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