Irish lawyers facilitate training of Magistrates in Malawi, Sept 2015

Is it possible to apply the law without any access to the law?

8th October 2015

This apparent contradiction is all too much of a reality for lay magistrates in Malawi. Due to a lack of resources, the isolated location of many courts, a lack of access to computers or the internet and a lack of training, lay magistrates are often forced to apply the law without access to even the most basic criminal codes.

Irish Rule of Law International (IRLI) has been working with magistrates and the judiciary in general in Malawi since 2011 in addition to other criminal justice stakeholders. The team has organised much-needed workshops on various aspects of the law and has carried out many advocacy efforts seeking to address some of the challenges faced by magistrates and the judiciary alike.

On 15 – 17 September 2015, IRLI held one such capacity building workshop for magistrates on jurisdiction and sentencing. The training was organised in conjunction with the Malawi Judicial Training Committee and was funded by the EU Democratic Governance Programme. IRLI was delighted to welcome esteemed experts from Ireland to facilitate at the workshop. Mr Roderick Murphy, former High Court judge and Mr Patrick McGrath SC embarked on the long journey from Dublin to Lilongwe in order to team up with local expert facilitators at the training. Such local experts included Supreme Court judges, High Court judges and the Chief Resident Magistrate for the Central Region.

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Mr McGrath SC opened with a presentation on various aspects surrounding the right to a fair trial. This led to a lively debate amongst participants, including the extent to which magistrates are permitted to intercede in the trial process to ensure the accused’s right to a fair trial is protected. Mr Murphy presented on Legal Reasoning and Judgment Writing, which was very well received by participants. In addition to delivering specific lectures, all three Irish experts facilitated various practical exercises during the three days, culminating in a mock sentencing trial on the final day of the workshop. Magistrates were provided with access to relevant legislation as well as copies of important caselaw on sentencing.

Following the training, many magistrates expressed their gratitude to the Irish visitors for taking the time to travel to Malawi and partake in the workshop. All participants agreed that their knowledge had significantly increased during the course of the three days and stated that they would implement this knowledge to full effect upon their return to their local courts.

During their visit to Malawi, Mr Murphy, Mr McGrath SC and Mr Storan BL also observed IRLI’s other ongoing projects and visited some prisons, police stations and children’s homes. Meetings were also conducted with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Director of the Legal Aid Bureau. Whilst Mr Murphy had previously travelled to Malawi to present at a workshop in 2013, it was Mr McGrath SC’s first visit to Malawi. According to Mr McGrath SC upon his return, “I am still reeling from all that I saw in Malawi over my week visit. Irish Rule of Law International is quietly doing such fantastic work over there with very limited resources. It was truly inspirational to see what is being done by Irish lawyers to such good effect”.


Written By Orla Crowe, IRLI Programme Lawyer in Malawi seconded to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions