It is now official; lawyers in Malawi are among the most corrupt human 'species'. The recent leaked conversation on the Malawi Law Society (MLS) 'WhatsApp' forum, where some prominent lawyers are trading serious accusations of corruption, has exposed a conspicuous lack of personal discipline and professional ethics among members of the legal fraternity in Malawi.
The accusations, and counter-accusations, of corruption, bribery and 'Judge shopping' by especially senior lawyers, John Gift Mwakhwawa and David Kanyenda, have confirmed the long-held fears that lawyers in Malawi cannot stand on any higher moral ground than politicians, who are often the punching bag with regard to corruption, theft and abuse of public resources.
It is no surprise therefore that in Malawi, lawyers lead obscenely luxurious lives. They drive around in expensive Porsche vehicles and maintain a horde of concubines. A good number of the so-called senior lawyers own plum mansions in exclusive city suburbs, all because of ill-gotten money.
Indeed, some of them fly business class and they can afford expensive holidays in South Africa and overseas. They are simply stinking rich.
According to one bank source, some of the lawyers in Malawi are not millionaires; they are, in fact, billionaires. Such men and women 'in robs and wigs' would laugh at the thought of students failing to pay university education fees. It is agonizingly absurd!
Indeed, the kind of luxurious lifestyle among many lawyers in Malawi point to the fact that the crooked lawyer syndrome has taken root amongst them. Apart from bribe taking and judge shopping, some lawyers swindle clients of their 'claimed' money. Such lawyers receive money on behalf of their clients, within the framework of the law but they deliberately choose to play hide-and-seek with the clients when it comes to remitting such money.
Recently, there have been media reports that have named 'and shamed' some prominent lawyers for various unprofessional conduct. Government authorities and MLS have confirmed such various cases of misconduct, some seriously criminal, and promised either prosecution or suspension of such lawyers but nothing conclusive has happened so far.
The perception that lawyers, law firms and judicial officers are involved in corruption has become relatively widespread in Malawi. But now that Malawians have now heard it from the horses' mouths, that lawyers connive with each other and judicial officers, including magistrates and High Court judges, to defeat the course of justice, it is time for real action against such unethical conduct.
It is high time that errant lawyers are sternly disciplined in order to save the oldest profession from plunging into further disrepute in Malawi.
The revelations on the MLS WhatsApp are as revealing as they are alarming. It is therefore imperative that thorough inquiry needs to be instituted, as a matter of urgency, into the serious allegations contained in that conversation.
Relevant authorities need to seriously address worrying integrity issues related to lawyers, law firms and judicial officers to curtail the mafia-like corruption that seemingly flourishes amongst them.
Corruption among lawyers and judicial officers has dangerous bearing on social and economic development of this nation because it simply promotes injustice. Injustice is a dangerous enemy of democracy and the rule of law.
According to Transparency International (TI), the legal profession plays an important role that is fundamental to any democracy. The right to legal counsel and representation is enshrined and protected by international law. Like all individuals and professionals, it is obvious that lawyers should not engage in corrupt activities. However, as defenders of justice, their involvement in corruption can be particularly consequential.
Under its current disciplinary framework, the Malawi Law Society has the mandate to warn or reprimand, impose a fine or call upon the courts to suspend or disbar a lawyer. This must be seen to be happening.
It is unfair to point the accusing finger on politicians only when lawyers and, of course other 'white-collar' professionals, also indulge in systematic corruption and get obscenely rich at the expense of poor and desperate clients.
But as Nyasa Times we will do our part as watchdog of the society to expose the rot in corridors of justice ; from judge shopping to corruption to defeat justice, we are following leads and expect Katyusha rockests soon.