Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has urged Women Lawyers Association (WLA) to provide clarification on the pro bono services rendered to Msundwe women so that the general public should understand what entails pro bono services.
The commission released a statement last night following revelations that WLA will receive K255 million for representing Msundwe and M’bwatalika women who were raped by police officers in 2019.
Last year, the High Court ordered that the 18 women should be given compensation by the Malawi Government and the compensation was this year determined to be K121 million.
Malawians on social media claim that they believed the WLA was providing pro bono services to the Msundwe women. There are also claims that WLA got funding from United Nations and OSISA to defend the rape victims in court hence the lawyers are getting paid twice for the same work.
MHRC said in a statement yesterday that it has received numerous questions regarding the issue hence its call for the WLA to provide the general public with adequate information that will enable them to understand what entails pro bono services.
The commission added that the association, which carries out work related to human rights, has a duty under section 15 of the Access to Information Act to make available to the general public information in relation to funds received for litigation in the Msundwe case.
“This will not only provide information to the public on the common issues that have been raised by them but it will go towards educating the general public on what pro bono services are and in what circumstances costs are awarded by the courts. More importantly, this will help restore the general public’s trust in the Women Lawyers Association and the great work the association is doing in promoting and protecting the rights of women and girls in Malawi,” reads part of the statement signed by MHRC chairperson Scader Louis.
Yesterday, the WLA released a statement in which it did not confirm if the legal services it rendered were pro bono or if indeed the organisation received financial support for the Msundwe case.
On the huge difference between the costs awarded to WLA and the compensation given to the women, WLA said both orders are orders of the court that were given after assessing all the legal issues that were brought before the court.
“The costs awarded by the Court take into account the work that the lawyers did in the case and the time spent on the case which is normal process in each legal process,” reads part of the statement.