K255 million legal fees shock Malawi Law Society

Malawi Law Society (MLS) has described the K255 million in legal fees awarded to Women Lawyers Association (WLA) as unusual and unjustified in a normal Judicial Review case ending at the High Court level.

The MLS, which is getting a K2 million cut from the legal fee, issued a statement yesterday signed by chairperson Patrick Gray Mpaka and Honorary Secretary Chimwemwe Ngunde.

According to MLS, the award appears contrary to the 13 basic principles for assessing costs as outlined in Order 31 rule 5 of the Courts (High Court) (Civil Procedure) Rules which is the major legal guideline for assessing costs of proceedings in the High Court.

“From a reading of the Ruling of the Court dated 6th August 2021, those 13 principles do not seem to have exercised the mind of Court nor were they brought to the attention of the Court. Only three issues concerning the number of lawyers, the question of care and conduct and the question of instruction fees as listed on page 2 of the Ruling appear to have been raised for consideration,” reads part of the statement.

WLA was awarded the K255 million in legal fees after securing K121 million compensation for women who were raped by police officers in 2019 at Msundwe and M’bwatalika in Lilongwe. WLA sued Malawi Police, Ministry of Finance and Clerk of Parliament.

Under the law, the State has 21 days from 6th August, 2021 to seek review of the K255 million and the money will not be given to the WLA before the expiry of 14 days from 6th August 2021.

“There should therefore be no public anxiety if the State is willing to challenge the award of K255,684,112. 00 under the due process of the Court,” MLS said.

There have also been concerns that the WLA has been awarded K255 million yet it rendered pro bono services to the 18 women. Some social media users have also claimed that the women lawyers received funding for the rape case which means it is being paid twice for the same case.

The Malawi Law Society noted that while pro bono legal services are a form of public service which allows deserving members of the public access to legal services at no cost to those deserving members of the public,  courts retain the power to order costs against public institutions or individuals holding public office even in a matter where a litigant is represented on a pro bono basis.

“Such orders serve a useful purpose to vindicate the law and to encourage public institutions or public officers to abide by the law in their exercise of powers of the State. In appropriate cases, it is necessary in the public interest and in the promotion of the rule of law that Courts issue costs orders against errant public officials,” MLS said.

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