Electoral dispute resolution; the practice direction by Judiciary

As we reflect on management of disputes arising from the 2014 elections, we look at the measures that were and are still in place effected by various stakeholders. Today we reflect on the practice direction by the Judiciary in resolving electoral issues.  

In 2009, the Judiciary came up with a practice direction abridging the time periods in cases of elections petitions and complaints. The Judiciary made the following steps to be followed in elections cases:

  1. Affidavit in Response to Application: Within seven days of the date of service of an application on the respondent, or on the Attorney General as necessary, the Respondent or the Attorney General shall file with the Court and serve on the Applicant a response with an affidavit where applicable and with skeleton arguments.
  2. Affidavit in Reply: Within three days of being served with the affidavit in response, the Applicant may file with the Court and serve on the Respondent or on the Attorney General as necessary, an affidavit in reply with skeleton arguments.
  3. Hearing of Application: The High Court shall hear the application within three days after the expiry of the three days allowed for service of the affidavit in reply.
  4. Delivery of Decision of the High Court : The High Court shall deliver its decision on the application within ten days of the conclusion of the hearing matter.
  5. Where matter is Considered to be of a Constitutional Nature: Where the applicant considers his matter to be of a constitutional nature requiring certification by the Chief Justice in accordance with section 9(3) of the Courts Act, he shall include with his application a prayer such certification and the Chief Justice shall decide on the prayer within twenty-four hours of the time the prayer was filed with his office.
  6. Interim Injunctions: An application for an interim injunction in connection with proceedings of an election petition or other election complaint shall be made inter partes and shall be heard before a single judge.
  7. Appeals to the Supreme Court of Appeal: An appeal against the decision of the High Court to the Supreme Court of Appeal shall be filed within forty eight hours after delivery of the decision and the Supreme Court of Appeal shall hear the appeal within seven days of the filing of the appeal and shall give its decision on the appeal within seven days of the conclusion of the appeal hearing.

There was no revision to the above procedures so they were also supposed to be followed in dealing with cases that were taken to court arising from the May 2014 elections. As of today, out of the 26 cases, nine cases have been dismissed with costs in favour of the MEC while 10 cases were withdrawn by mutual consent. Only one case is still in court awaiting judgment and six cases are still in the High Court (2 in Zomba and 4 in Blantyre) waiting for hearing. There are two 2 cases that are in the Supreme Court of Appeal.