The High Court in Lilongwe has ordered former President Peter Mutharika and former Secretary to the office of President and Cabinet, Lloyd Muhara to pay costs amounting to a total of K69.5 million to the applicants in the Chief Justice case.
The ruling states that the first applicant, Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) and the second applicant Magistrates Associations of Malawi is to be paid K26 million whereas the third applicant (the Malawi Law Society) is to be paid K43 million, within 14 days.
The two defendants were found guilty of trying to send onto forced leave Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda and Justice of Appeal Edward Twea, pending their retirement in June last year after the Chief Justice sitting in the Supreme Court of Malawi had upheld a historical Constitutional Court Election decision of the High Court, which ruled in favour of the then opposition leaders, Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima, nullifying the May 2019 Election results.
Khumbo Soko, one of the lawyers for the applicants said that the case had set a new legal precedent and that public officers in Malawi will from now onwards be personally liable for costs of their misconduct.
“A message has now been sent that there will now be personal costs for constitutional delinquency. This is a warning to those holding public offices that a day of reckoning will surely come.”– Khumbo Soko
Judge Charles Mkandawire who presided over a judicial review of the case in his earlier ruling ordered that Peter Mutharika and Lloyd Muhara should be personally liable to pay the costs.
It will be interesting to see how this precedent is applied going forward in subsequent cases, since in the past Malawi has had quite a number of instances when public officials have acted in a manner that is unlawful, and that has ended up costing the country’s public purse millions of kwachas in court settlements/ court awards, while escaping personal liability. This judgement appears to put a stop to that practice.