Malawi court suspends wearing of wigs and gowns as temperatures soar

Malawi’s constitutional court has suspended its requirement that lawyers and judges wear traditional white wigs and black robes in the courtroom as an early season heatwave sweeps the southern African nation.

Temperatures in some parts of the country have hit 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) this week, the country’s Department of Meteorological Services said.

Malawi, a former British protectorate, still follows the British legal system, with the wearing of wigs and robes a requirement for judges and lawyers.

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But Chikosa Silungwe, one of the lawyers in court this week in the capital, Lilongwe, said the heatwave was making the court’s work challenging.

“It’s simple really. The heatwave this week meant that the gowns and wigs were uncomfortable,” he said in a telephone interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

He was he wasn’t ready to attribute the excessive heat to climate change, noting “that’s stretching it too far”.

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But Jolamu Nkhokwe, Malawi’s director of climate change and meteorological services, said that while a range of factors contribute to higher temperatures, “the big suspect of this heatwave is climate change”.

“The (temperature) figures within their respective areas are higher than what is always expected during this time of the year,” as the southern hemisphere heads toward summer, he said.

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Agnes Patemba, the registrar for the country’s high court and a judicial spokeswoman, said the lifting of the wig and gown requirement, which began Wednesday, was a temporary measure.

“There is a heatwave and that has compelled the court to indeed do away with wigs and gowns. It is not the first time this has been done,” Patemba said in an interview.

Malawi’s high court is currently hearing a petition brought by the country’s political opposition seeking to nullify this year’s elections, which it says were marred by irregularities.

The country’s ministry of health has issued a press statement warning of heat risks and urging people to take precautions.

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