A law expert has questioned the K7 billion elections case legal fees and has advised the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to appeal.
Danwood Chirwa, who is Dean of Law at University of Cape Town, said yesterday that the legal fees are not right.
On Monday, the Registrar of High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal Agness Patemba awarded about K7 billion in legal fees to 10 lawyers for President Lazarus Chakwera and Vice President Saulos Chilima.
Chirwa questioned the legal fees and wondered if any lawyer in Malawi has ever earned K1.5 billion in a year.
“I’m still wrapping my head around the costs assessment orders made in favour of Tonse Alliance lawyers. Somewhere close to 7billion Kwacha meant for four lawyers. Malawian lawyers must explain whether there has been examples of a lawyer charging for all possible billable hours in a year and earning at least 1.5 billion Kwacha,” he wrote.
He then urged MEC to appeal against Patemba’s ruling.
“This doesn’t sound right. The commission must do the right thing and appeal the order, all the way to the SCA if it has to,” said Chirwa.
He added in a comment on the post that he is confident that, if MEC appeals, the award of the legal fees will not be upheld.
Chirwa also demanded the Malawi Electoral Commission to disclose the amount it paid its lawyers in the elections so that taxpayers should know the total cost of the elections case and who has benefited the most.
Commenting on Chirwa’s post, lawyer Ishamel Wadi said a number of factors are taken into account when assessing legal fees and they include time spent in legal research, preparation of documents, court attendance.
Another factor Wadi mentioned is the years of experience of the Attorney which he said determines the rate, complexity and importance of matter.
“In my opinion, this was an extremely complex case and it involved a lot of lawyers and it demanded unlimited attention. I have seen small cases being taxed at Mk19m and complex cases MK78m so for this one, it is a reasonable figure,” said Wadi.
In the elections case, Chakwera and Chilima challenged the results of the 2019 presidential elections and after weeks of hearing the case, the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of the two.
MEC and the then president Peter Mutharika appealed at the Supreme Court but their appeal was unsuccessful. MEC was ordered to pay costs by both the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court.
Chakwera’s lawyers in the case included Modercai Msisha and current Minister of Justice Titus Mvula while Chilima’s lawyers included current Attorney General Chikosa Silungwe and Bright Theu.