The High Court in Zomba has dismissed an application by the Malawi Attorney General in a case in which Rastafarian children are challenging the policy of the Ministry of Education that requires all learners to cut their hair before admission into government schools.
Judge Zione Ntaba has made the ruling in Zomba today.
The matter which is in court started in 2017 after two Rastafarian were denied admission at Blantyre Girls Primary School and Malindi Secondary School because they refused to cut their dreadlocks.
On 14 January 2020, the High Court of Malawi in Zomba granted an interlocutory injunction compelling the Minister of Education to allow all children of the Rastafari religion, who have dreadlocks, to enrol in Government Schools pending the final determination of the judicial review on the matter.
As the hearing of the judicial review was set to start last month, government through the Attorney General filed an application asking the court to dismiss the case saying it was based on a policy that does not exist.
Today, Judge Ntaba has thrown out the application by the Attorney General.
According to Ruth Kaima, one of the lawyers for the children, Ntaba has admonished the Attorney General over his conduct. She added that Ntaba described the late application by the Attorney General as unacceptable.
“The lawyer who represented the Attorney General has been told to state to the court on why he feels the court should not discipline him,” said Kalima.
The court has also ordered the Attorney General to pay costs for the preliminary objection application.
Meanwhile, the hearing on the judicial review is expected to start on March 14 this year.
Justice Ntaba in the case will determine whether the Ministry of Education’s policy requiring that the applicants should cut their hair for them to be allowed into Malawi Government schools is unlawful and unconstitutional on the ground that it violates the right to religion, education, and the right not to be discriminated against based on religious affiliation as provided in the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi Sections 20, 25 and 33.
She will further determine whether the Ministry of Education’s policy is an unreasonable and unjustified limitation on the right to education as provided in sections 25 and 44 of the Constitution.
Ntaba will also rule on whether the Ministry of Education’s policy requiring that the applicants should cut their hair for them to be allowed into Malawi Government secondary schools is contrary to sections 4 and 5 of the Education Act.
The applicants argue that the policy of the Ministry of Education is unlawful and unconstitutional as it violates their right to freedom of religion and education and not to be discriminated against on the ground of religious affiliation.
In the case, the applicants are being represented by lawyers from Southern Africa Litigation Centre with support from Women Lawyers Association of Malawi (WLA) and Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice, and Assistance (CHREAA).