CSOs calls for swift enactment of judicial reform

Malawi Parliament

* It is in the interest of Malawians to have the proposed reforms enacted by the next sitting of Parliament

* We emphasize the critical role of cooperation by the judiciary in facilitating the swift finalization of the Bills for tabling in the august House

By Duncan Mlanjira

Civil society organisations (CSOs) have issued a joint petition urgently calling for the government to expedite the legislative process to ensure prompt enactment of proposed Bills, thereby guaranteeing equitable access to justice for all citizens of Malawi.


The 20 CSOs maintain that “it is in the interest of Malawians to have the proposed reforms enacted by the next sitting of Parliament”.

“We emphasize the critical role of cooperation by the judiciary in facilitating the swift finalization of the Bills for tabling in the august House during the next sitting of Parliament — underscoring the judiciary’s commitment to accountability and the rule of law.”

The CSOs also urge citizens “to actively engage with the Bills, advocating for their passage as essential safeguards of democracy and good governance in Malawi”.

The petition began by acknowledging the transformative potential inherent in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2023, and the Judicial Service Administration Bill, 2023 and underscored their pivotal role in shaping Malawi’s judiciary towards alignment with constitutional values, efficiency, and accountability.

“These legislative initiatives epitomize Malawi’s steadfast commitment to strengthening judicial accountability and broadening access to justice.

“In collaboration with diverse stakeholders, the civil society formally submitted reflections on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2023, and the Judicial Service Administration Bill, 2023 to the Malawi Law Society (MLS) on December 18, 2023.

“As a sector, we unequivocally endorse these proposed reforms, recognizing their profound impact on fortifying judicial accountability and expanding access to justice in Malawi.

“Swift enactment of these Bills is paramount to ensure equitable access to justice for all citizens.”

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Relevance of judicial accountability in democratic Malawi

The CSOs stress that democratic governance in Malawi hinges on judicial accountability, “yet recent events highlight the pressing need to address issues like delayed judgments and opaque disciplinary processes”.

“The lack of robust complaint mechanisms and limited access to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) have eroded public trust. Immediate action is vital to restore confidence in the judiciary and uphold justice principles.

“The erosion of public trust due to delays and opaque processes threatens democracy. Without effective reforms, citizens’ confidence will continue to decline, undermining the rule of law.

“Urgent measures are required to streamline complaints, enhance transparency, and ensure JSC accessibility, reinforcing public trust and participation.

“Ongoing reforms align with recommendations from the leaked Public Service Systems Report of May 2021, which addresses critical structural issues such as judges holding executive roles.

“Recommendations include the establishment of a Deputy Chief Justice position, a common practice in comparable jurisdictions, amending the Constitution, limiting Supreme Court judges to nine, including the Chief Justice and Deputy, and precluding justices from secondment to mainstream public service.”

Catholic Bishops

The petition also highlights a concern raised by Catholic Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi in their Pastoral Letter published on February 25 — entitled ‘The Sad Story of Malawi’ — which made special mention of the judiciary.

The Catholics Bishops highlighted that “the Judiciary appears to have abandoned its integrity and has embroiled itself in corruption and partisanship”.

“The price of judges and magistrates is no longer taboo — it’s an open secret that some lawyers thrive by bribing judges and magistrates to defeat the ends of justice. Some judges and magistrates are accountable to no one.

“They take years to hear a case, yet the Judiciary does nothing to discipline them. Instead, they are rewarded with promotion.

“We believe that the Ministry of Justice is frustrating efforts by the Malawi Law Society to put in place a law that regulates the judges. This law deserves our support because a solid legal system is the backbone of any country that wants to eliminate corruption,” said the Bishops.

Thus the CSO’s firmly say the reforms, “alongside technology integration, are crucial for timely case disposal, enhancing accountability, and restoring public trust in Malawi’s judiciary”.


Expedited reform as a must for access to and dispensation of justice

The CSOs further say expedited reform is not just a necessity but an urgent imperative for Malawi’s justice system to thrive. The current prevalence of delayed judgments and opacity in disciplinary processes not only exacerbates inequalities but also undermines citizens’ faith in the judiciary.

Without swift action, marginalized communities will continue to encounter insurmountable barriers to justice, perpetuating systemic injustices and eroding democratic principles.

Efforts to fortify judicial accountability must extend to the appointment of judges, ensuring a transparent and merit-based selection process free from political interference.

Additionally, adequate financing of judicial activities is paramount to maintain the judiciary’s independence and effectiveness in dispensing justice.

Moreover, implementing an objective procedure for the removal of judges, free from undue influence, is essential to uphold the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

While steps to depoliticize removal proceedings and enhance oversight mechanisms are commendable, they must be complemented with robust implementation and continuous monitoring to ensure effectiveness.

Furthermore, financial autonomy and diversity within the judiciary are indispensable for promoting equitable access to justice and restoring public confidence in its impartiality and integrity.


In their conclusion, the joint civil eociety emphasizes the imperative of expediting the finalization and enactment of the proposed judicial reforms.

“These reforms are indispensable for upholding the rule of law, promoting democratic principles, and ensuring equal access to justice for all Malawians.”

The petition is signed by Benedicto Kondowe, chairperson of National Advocacy Platform (NAP) on behalf of:

Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC);

Youth and Society (YAS);

Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency (CSAT);

National Alliance Against Corruption (NAAC);

Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR);

Centre for Civil Society Strengthening (CSS);

Civil Society Coalition on Accountability and Transparency (CSCAT);

Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre (MHRRC);

Nyika InstituteNGO Gender Coordination Network (NGO GCN);

Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC);

Citizen Alliance;

Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN);

NGO Coalition on Child Rights (NGO CCR);

Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN);

Inua Advocacy (IA);

Church and Society, Livingstonia Synod of Central Africa Presbyterian;

Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (CHREAA);

Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI).