Malawi judge allows Madonna adoption challenge
by Felix Mponda

LILONGWE (AFP) - A judge in Malawi has allowed a coalition of human rights groups to proceed with a legal challenge to US pop star Madonna's adoption of an African baby boy.

Judge Andrew Nyirenda ruled Wednesday that the coalition of 67 rights groups could be regarded as "friends of the court" along with the state-sponsored Malawi human rights commission and therefore pursue their application for a full review of an interim custody order.

"The applications from both applicants are accordingly granted and they are both joined as amicus curiae," said the two-page judgement, a copy of which was obtained by AFP at the high court in Lilongwe.

"I believe the applicants mean well and this court will certainly benefit from the applicants' researched opinions."

The coalition first lodged a petition before the court last month, claiming that existing legislation did not allow for intra-country adoptions and asking for the right to bring a full-fledged appeal at a later hearing.

The granting of an 18-month interim custody order, which enabled Madonna to take young David Banda out of Malawi, sparked heated debate about adoption laws in a country where the number of orphans is surging as a result of AIDS.

The judge, who did not set a date for a full review of the interim adoption order, made clear that Madonna's legal team in Malawi had not raised any objection to the applications.

"Counsel for the petitioners has no objection to the application. Likewise I see no reason to refuse the applications," said the judge.

A lawyer for the coalition, which is known as the human rights consultative committee, expressed satisfaction with the verdict of the judge.

"We are happy with the ruling. We will be holding a joint meeting with the Malawi human rights commission to look at how we can approach the whole issue," Justin Dzodzi told AFP.

"We will be bringing substantive arguments before the court's determination. Our main interest is to assist the court to address adoption issues comprehensively," he added.

Madonna's chief lawyer in Malawi, Alan Chinula, came to the court in the afternoon to collect copy of the ruling. He did not speak to reporters after entering the building via a back entrance normally used by judges.

Chinula has previously said that Madonna had "followed the adoption process to the letter" of the law.

Baby David is now living with Madonna and her British filmmaker husband Guy Ritchie in London, even though would-be adoptive parents are usually subject to an 18-month monitoring period by social workers in Malawi.

Madonna has denied using her vast wealth to fast-track the process while David's father Yohane Banda has called on the coalition to drop their action for fear that the singer will return the child to a life of poverty back home.