The faces behind Diversion

Sub-Inspector Chimbaya and Constable Chaonaine at Mwai Wosinthika - Chance for Change Programme

A key component of the IRLI ‘Access to Justice’ project has been its partnership with the Malawi Police Services. Since September 2011, an IRLI Programme Lawyer has worked in conjunction with the main Police Station in Lilongwe to implement a diversion programme and provide legal advice and assistance to officers in the police station. IRLI has delivered a number of workshops to officers on the use of diversion and legislative updates in criminal procedure.  This is the first time an international NGO has been granted such access to a police station.

Our work would not have been possible without the commitment and dedication of police officers within the Lilongwe Police Station. Sub-Inspector Fanny Chimbaya and Constable Yotamu Chaonaine have attended and participated in IRLI workshops. I sat down with both officers to find out how the interaction with IRLI has impacted their careers within the Malawi Police Services.

What I wanted to know was what has been the greatest change seen in the police station as a result of our presence.  Yotamu really felt that

diversion is now a reality in our police station. Your presence has helped officers to implement what they learnt at the IRLI training. Stand-alone training would not have achieved this.

He recognised that due to the shortage of lawyers in Malawi, the police officers have never spent time with a qualified lawyer who could assist in identifying cases suitable for diversion and reviewing the legal basis of this tool in combatting crime. This commitment by IRLI to provide a lawyer has greatly increased the skills of police officers. Fanny echoed this sentiment,

after the training we had the skills to talk to our superiors about cases that were suitable for diversion.

Fanny highlighted that use of diversion means that because minor cases are now dealt with at the police station, their limited resources such as fuel, paper and police time can now be concentrated on more serious offences.

Fanny and Yotamu were also instrumental in the success of the IRLI/Venture Trust Mwai Wosinthika – Diversion Aftercare Programme.  Both officers volunteered personal time to teach young people the life skills necessary to avoid recidivism. Fanny commended the tangible results of the programme:

It makes me happy when I see young people returning to school and their excitement about their futures. Engagement with young people has positive consequences for the community because it reduces animosity between families.

Yotamu himself learnt from participating in the programme; ‘PLAN-DO-REVIEW’ is a motto he now applies to his own work!

Resulting from their dedication and commitment, IRLI supported an application by Fanny and Yotamu to participate in the Commonwealth Scholarship Fellowship Program with Venture Trust.  We are delighted that they have been successful and will be travelling to Scotland with Venture Trust later this year.  We wish them every success!

Constable Chaonaine speaking at the IRLI Diversion Workshop at Kanengo Police Station

Fanny and Yotamu have continued to excel in their knowledge of diversion and restorative justice, and have delivered two of IRLI’s diversion workshops to their fellow officers.  As Fanny put it herself,

I now have the ability to deliver a training workshop on diversion. I can explain to my fellow officers what diversion means, when it is suitable to be used and how diverted cases should be recorded. I no longer fear approaching my superiors about cases because I have the confidence to articulate to them what is involved and the legal basis for my actions.

Yotamu also expressed his gratitude to IRLI, he said

IRLI has developed my skills to present on this topic. A year ago I would not have had the confidence to deliver a workshop, especially to officers of a senior rank.

For my part the officers have been a constant guide to me and assist greatly on a daily basis in achieving the goals which IRLI has set in this project.  There is plenty more work to be done but with the continued support by the Malawi Police Services it is certainly achievable.    

By Eithne Lynch, Programme Lawyer