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, lawyers are seconded to the principal institutional actors in the criminal justice system: the Legal Aid Bureau, the Ministry of Justice, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the Malawi Police Service.

The team is currently made up of Programme Manager Maya Linstrum-Newman, Programme Lawyers Macdara O Drisceoil, Tyler Holmes and Sophie Pigot, 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, Carolann Minnock, Erin Gregg, Heath McCallum, Lisa Pfieffer and Jonathan Schieb.

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

The Context

Excessive use of pre-trial detention and the lack of a comprehensive legal aid system, among 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. Reducing overcrowding improves conditions for prisoners, thus enhancing Malawi’s observance of the human rights of prisoners and remandees.

Persons living in poverty in 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 persons living in poverty, IRLI works 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 in people’s lives, 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 and the Paralegal Advisory Service (PASI) to progress cases of remandees and juveniles, with a focus on children, women, the sick, and the elderly.

IRLI Programme Lawyer taking bail statements in Nkhotakhota Prison, February 2019. Photo Credit: Maya Linstrum-Newman.

  • 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;

Kasungu Child Justice Training, November 2018. Photo Credit: Tyler Holmes

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

Officials from the Office of the DPP, which IRLI assisted in updating the management of the case files in the criminal registry. Photo Credit: Maya Linstrum-Newman

  • 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;

2018 Graduates of our Child Diversion Programme, Mwai Wosinthika. Photo Credit: Jolene Quinn

  • Engaging with local Traditional leaders, with the support of the Malawi Police Service and Paralegal Advisory Service, to facilitate community legal education workshops to raise awareness among the broader community about bail rights, diversion, child protection and human rights.

Community Sensitisation in Dedza, May 2018. Photo Credit: Jolene Quinn


Read more about the programme 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, the European Union and Human Dignity Foundation.