BY ALICK PONJE:
Outgoing European Union (EU) Ambassador to Malawi, Marchel Gerrmann, has described the legal system in Malawi as formal, complex and sometimes intimidating, such that the disadvantaged fail to explicitly express themselves in courts of law.
“The EU notes with concern that justice is very expensive in Malawi and therefore out of reach for many Malawians who are poor, disadvantaged, hence vulnerable,” Gerrmann said Friday in Kasungu at the official launch of the Chilungamo (Justice and Accountability) Project.
He added that a well-functioning justice system is a prerequisite for peace and development in any jurisdiction.
“I hope you will agree with me that overcrowding in prisons is a symptom of challenges in the justice system and this impacts negatively on the rights of inmates,” the EU envoy said.
The €48 million [approximately K41 billion] Justice and Accountability Project is one of the EU-funded programmes under the 11th European Development Fund and aims to support governance institutions in Malawi.
Gerrmann said, through the project, which is nine months old, a number of milestones have been made.
“At the start of this programme, overcrowding in prisons was over 250 percent. I am happy to note that the programme has facilitated the release of 1,235 inmates from prisons, compared to a target of 900, through camp courts and a review and analysis of court orders,” he said.
The EU envoy added that the programme supported the establishment of the Asset Forfeiture Unit in the Ministry of Justice to track and forfeit assets after successful prosecution of finance-related crimes including Cashgate cases.
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Samuel Tembenu, highlighted the need to demystify the conception that justice favours the rich.
He admitted that one of the concerns among various stakeholders is that people who commit petty crimes are sentenced to long jail terms when the matters can be ably handled outside the formal court set-up.
Registrar of the High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal, Agnes Patemba, said local courts would be operationalised through the Chilungamo Project after traditional courts were abolished after introduction of democracy.
Patemba added that there are a number of factors that influence the discharge of cases.
“Sometimes it is about witnesses not being traced. If a prosecutor does not trace a witness, it does not mean the case was not supposed to go to court,” Patemba said.
Public sector institutions that are participating in the project include the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, the Judiciary, Malawi Police Service, Malawi Prisons Service, Legal Aid Bureau, the Office of the Ombudsman and Malawi Human Rights Commission.