Malawi: Court to Ditch Wigs and Robes - Extends Session Time to Fast Track Malawi Elections Case

A group of Malawian lawyers in their wigs (file photo).
29 October 2019

As temperature rises the Constitutional Court hearing the presidential election petition case in Lilongwe has said it is considering a request to suspend the traditional court garb where judges and lawyers wear white horse-hair wigs and gowns.

The five judge panel comprising Hearly Potani, Ivy Kamanga, Dingiswayo Madise, Mike Tembo and Redson Kapindu presiding over the case, said they are yet to make a decision on ditch the wigs and robes but in the interim asked for more air condition in the court room.

So until a decision is made to relax the dress code, judges and a battalion of lawyers from petitioners and respondents will continue to wear robes and curly wigs as well as wing collars and bands -- white cotton strips worn round the neck.

Justice Potani noted that the wigs and gowns add decorum to the court proceedings, they also add a sense of dignity and discipline to the participants.

He also pointed out that some lawyers feel the wigs give them an air of authority.

But with the sweltering Lilongwe heat, lawyers are melting under their garb.

Malawi judiciary is still stuck with other relics of the colonial courtroom: bows, references to judges as "my lord" and "my lady".

Meanwhile, the court has extended its daily afternoon session by one hour to begin at 9am to 6pm each day to expedite hearing of the historic case.

The court was earlier meeting up to 5pm.

During cross-examination, one of the lawyers representing first respondent, President Peter Mutharika, Madaliso Mmeta quizzed witness Peter Lackson of second petitioner ( Malawi Congress Party -MCP presidential hopeful Lazarus Chakwera) that MCP did not verify data with that of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC).

"You did not compare the data with the data of MEC, did you?" Mmeta asked.

Lackson responded: "Yes we did not with an explanation."

Mmeta accused Lackson of twisting the figure, an assertion the witness dismissed.

And another witness Richard Chapweteka who was cross-examined and re-examined a couple of weeks ago, returned to the witness box to be questioned on the new evidence he sought regarding the packaging list of ballot papers.

Chapweteka told the court that there were extra documents, especially the 66C forms booklets [used for tallying results], that were not indicated as shipped in the country from Dubai printers for training purposes.

MEC- the second respondents- was supposed to source 5002 booklets but instead 5 5000 were shipped in the country providing an extra 498 with some of the forms being claimed by MCP were tippexed and manually altered.

In the case, MCP's Chakwera and UTM Party president Saulos Chilima, are seeking disqualification of the May 21 presidential election results, citing irregularities by the electoral body in administering the polls. They want the court to order a re-run.

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