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State risks being sued— Malawi Law Society, activist

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The state risks being sued by suspects who are being held in police custody for more than two days—48 hours—without being charged due to the judiciary strike that has been going on for about a month.

According to Malawi Law Society (MLS) and Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (Chreaa), the government can pay compensation to the suspects for denying them justice.

Speaking to The Daily Times yesterday, MLS Vice President, Davie Banda said that based on the rights of the accused persons as provided in the Constitution, the government risks being sued.

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“The Constitution gives suspects several rights such as the right to be brought before court of law within 48 hours of being arrested to be informed of the reasons of arrest. The other right is to be tried within a reasonable time. On the basis of these rights, people who are being kept in prisons as suspects awaiting the courts to open may indeed sue government,” said Banda.

Chreaa Executive Director Victor Mhango said the strike is denying a lot of people access to justice, a development which exposes government to law suits by the suspects.

“I can foresee legal suits if it comes to prisoners who are staying in prisons illegally. Second, there have been a number of contracts with the courts and some people can lose the contracts because the courts are not operating, so as the country, we are losing more than what people are able to see,” Mhango said.

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He added: “The main problem is failure to define the judiciary supporting staff on whether they are judicial officers or civil servants? If they can describe that, then we have a way forward because if they are judicial officers, then they should be considered for the perks. If they are just civil servants, they should also be told that they cannot have benefits of judicial officers.”

On Friday, police invaded court registries in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba demanding the striking members of staff to vacate court premises on grounds that the strike is illegal.

The judiciary strike has entered its fourth week and the support staff have stood their ground not to return to work after government told them it will not give them the demanded housing allowances.

They want government to start implementing their housing allowances which Parliament agreed in 2012.

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