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- Legal System
Malawi’s legal system is based on English Common Law. The judiciary consists of local courts and a local appeals court in every district. The higher tiers consist of the Supreme Court of Appeal, the High Court, and the magistrates’ courts. The High Court is presided over by a chief justice and four puisne judges, appointed by the president. It has judicial authority over all civil and criminal cases, and sits in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba. Magistrates’ courts are located in cities and towns in 24 districts throughout the country. Appeals from the magistrates’ courts are heard by the High Court and those arising from the High Court by the Supreme Court of Appeal in Blantyre.
Malawi used to also possess a traditional court system, introduced in 1964. However, it was suspended by the attorney general in 1993 in response to a report by the National Consultative Council on problems in the workings of the traditional court system. The system was subsequently abolished by the 1995 constitution, after the arrival of the multi-party democracy in 1994. The constitution of the same year contains a bill of human rights (although it retains the death penalty) and protects the independence of the judiciary. The subsequent lack of legal structure in rural areas is a barrier to an accessible justice system. In response to this problem, in 2009 the Special Law Commission was appointed to review the old Traditional Courts Act. A proposal arose from the report to reintroduce a traditional court system, which the commission argued would provide a point of access to justice in rural areas. The local courts will be subordinate to the High Courts, differing from the parallel functions of the traditional courts in the past. Malawi has not accepted compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction.
Lawyers qualified to practice in Malawi are entitled to act as both attorneys and advocates. The professional body is the Malawi Law Society, which is based in Blantyre, and represents over 300 lawyers. The normal route to practice as a lawyer is to obtain a law degree from the University of Malawi, pay an annual membership fee to the Malawi Law Society and have a practice license issued by the Registrar of the High Court of Malawi.
A foreign lawyer may practice in the country if they have been admitted as a member of the Bar, Solicitor, or similar position in England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, Jamaica, Tanzania or Zimbabwe. Additionally, a lawyer must pass the Malawi Law Examinations. Leading firms include Savjani & Co, Lawson & Co, Mbendera, Chibambo & Associates, and Racane Associates in Blantyre; Chisanga & Tomoka in Limbe; and Lexon & Lord in Lilongwe.
Information from the World Economic Forum, The Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013
Legal rights index
Efficiency of legal framework in settling disputes
Efficiency of legal framework in challenging regulations
Property rights (including financial assets)
Intellectual property protection