Blantyre - A civil rights group in Malawi on Wednesday challenged the appointment of four new judges by President Bakili Muluzi, saying they were ethnically biased.

Human rights lawyer Ralph Kasambara of the Civil Liberties Committee (CILIC) said the applicants who had failed to be appointed had been "discriminated against because they are northerners".

Eight candidates had applied for the vacant posts, and all those who were not appointed were from the northern region.

"It's a big concern to us, because (the appointments) were based on where they come from," Kasambara said.

Muluzi is from southern Malawi.

Kasambara said his organisation had applied to the High Court to stop the swearing-in of the judges until a judicial review of the appointment process is held.

Under the constitution, the head of state appoints new judges on recommendation from the judicial service commission, which is headed by the country's chief justice.

Lawyers who have served more than 10 years are eligible to be appointed judges in Malawi.

Kasambala said among those excluded from the bench were chief state advocate Maclean Kamwambe, deputy chief legal aid advocate Gaston Mwenelupembe and chairman of the industrial relations court Charles Mkandawire.

Among the four new judges are the current Malawi high commissioner (ambassador) to Zimbabwe Tujilane Chizumila and former Malawi Law Society president John Katsala. - Sapa-AFP