The Programme

Since August 2011, IRLI has been working in Malawi to address capacity challenges within the criminal justice sector with the overall aim of improving access to justice for unrepresented vulnerable persons. As part of this programme, Irish volunteer lawyers are seconded to or positioned strategically alongside the principal institutional actors in the criminal justice system: the Legal Aid Bureau, Ministry of Justice, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Malawi Police Service. Their work is also supplemented by volunteer lawyers based in Ireland, who provide short term intensive training for partners.

The team is currently made up of Programme Manager Jonathan Scheib, Programme Lawyers Macdara O Drisceoil, Tyler Holmes, Maya Linstrum Newman and Sangeetha Yogendran, and Programme Officer Jolene Quinn.

Previous volunteers who have worked in Malawi include Jane O’Connell, Morgan Crowe, Sarah Houlihan, Paul Bradfield, Eithne Lynch, Ruth Dowling, Sonya Donnelly and Carolann Minnock.

IRLI volunteers Ruth Dowling and Eithne Lynch won the Bar Council Human Rights Award at the 2013 Irish Law Awards for their work in Malawi.  You can watch a video on their work here.

You can donate directly to the project here at

Team Photo with Senators & TDs_July2015

July 2015 Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade visit to Malawi: Chairman of JCFAT Pat Breen, Dan Neville, T.D. and Senator Jim Walsh together with the IRLI team and Irish Ambassador to Malawi Aine Hearns


Excessive use of pre-trial detention and the lack of a comprehensive legal aid system, amongst other factors, have resulted in overcrowding in Malawi’s prisons as well as considerably long detention times for prisoners being held on remand. Overcrowding in prisons is a prevailing problem across many nations in Africa, with the practice of holding prisoners on remand compounding the issue. As a result, in some countries a good majority of the prison population is made up of those awaiting trial. By reducing overcrowding, conditions for prisoners improve thus enhancing Malawi’s observance of the human rights of prisoners and remandees.

The poor of Malawi also face physical, financial and language barriers to legal aid. Most live in remote rural areas, live on an income of $1 per day, and do not speak English – the language of the court. With no representation vulnerable Malawians are often held in custody for months, or years, until a trial court acquits or sentences him/her.

In tackling access to justice for the poor, IRLI has sought to implement mechanisms in partnership with local actors to remove obstacles to free legal aid in the short-term (such as capacity constraints and shortage of lawyers) in order to bring about direct change at beneficiary level, while developing systemic, sustainable interventions aimed at providing long-term benefits to the wider criminal justice sector.

Programme Focus

IRLI works to build capacity in the criminal justice sector and provide access to justice in the following ways:

  • Working closely with advocates and officials in the Legal Aid Bureau to progress cases of remandees and juveniles, with a focus on children, women, the sick, and the elderly.

    Team Photo

    IRLI team with Legal Aid colleagues, January 2015

  • Training of magistrates, police officers, social workers, advocates and paralegals in human rights and due process, restorative justice and diversion, case management and client care, as well as the protection of children and young offenders who come in conflict with the law;

Programme Lawyer Sarah Houlihan during training for Third Grade Magistrates, May 2013

  • Supporting the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to improve case management systems, processing of homicide cases and writing of legal opinions.

Crim Reg PplIRLI assisted the Office of the DPP to update the management of the case files in the criminal registry

  • Working with the Malawi Police Service to strengthen diversion programmes in police stations in Lilongwe so that juveniles and first time offenders of minor crimes are diverted from the already over-burdened prison system;

Programme Lawyers Eithne Lynch and Ruth Dowling at Diversion Training for police in Kanengo, February 2013

  • Facilitating a Child Diverson Programme in partnership with Chisomo’s Children Club and the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare with a focus on reducing recidivism through correctional education;

Programme Officer Mark Johnson at the graduation ceremony for ‘Mwai Wosinthika’ Programme, May 2015

  • Engaging with local Traditional leaders, with the support of the Malawi Police Service and Legal Aid Bureau, to facilitate community legal education workshops to sensitise the broader community about bail rights, diversion, child protection and human rights.

Community Sensitisation in Chiuzira Traditional Authority, March 2015

Read more about this programme on the blog posts below:

More information is also available on ‘IRLI in the Media‘ and all posts are available on our ‘Blog‘.

This project is funded by Irish Aid, Human Dignity Foundation and the European Union