Malawi government cancels order sending chief justice on forced leave

FILE PHOTO: Malawi’s Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda (left). (AFP/Amos Gumulira)

The new Malawian government nullified a previous order by the administration of former president Peter Mutharika which sought to retire the country’s chief justice days before the June 23 presidential election.

On June 12, Mutharika’s office issued a notice which said that Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda had been placed on leave pending retirement with immediate effect. According to the notice, Nyirenda had accumulated more leave days than the remainder of his working days until his retirement. Nyirenda, who took office in March 2015, was due to retire in December 2021.

However, following appeals against the decision by the Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), the Association of Magistrates, and the Malawi Law Society, judges of the high court issued injunctions stopping the order.

In February, Nyirenda had led a five-judge panel which annulled Mutharika’s May 2019 election victory citing “widespread, systematic and grave” irregularities and subsequently ordered a fresh election in 150 days. Mutharika lost the election to Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party.

In cancelling the order, the government said that Nyirenda had not proceeded on leave as previously announced and continued to discharge his duties as chief justice.

“Regarding the accumulated leave days of the Honourable the Chief Justice, it is a matter between the Honourable the Chief Justice and the Judicial Service Commission,” the statement said.