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 Emma Weld-Moore, Programme Lawyers Orla Crowe and Sarah McGuckin, and Programme Officer Mark Johnson.
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.
You can donate directly to the project here at www.mycharity.ie.
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.
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.
- 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;
- Supporting the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to improve case management systems, processing of homicide cases and writing of legal opinions.
- 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;
- 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;
- 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.
Read more about this programme on the blog posts below:
- July 2015: Law Society of Ireland Donates Computers to Malawi
- May 2015: Update on Malawi Programme since January
- December 2014: ‘Mwai Wosinthika’ Inspiring Future Leaders
- December 2014: Irish Lawyers meet President Higgins in Malawi
- September 2014: IRLI’s Coordinator and Director visit to Malawi
- March 2014: Malawi Project Goes from Strength to Strength
- February 2014: Pre Departure Briefing for IRLI volunteers
- June 2013: Magistrates’ Training Visit May 2013
- May 2013: Camp Courts Welcome Irish Delegation
- May 2013: IRLI lawyers tackle Camp Courts
- February 2013: The Faces behind Diversion
- January 2013: Homicide Remandees meet the High Court
- October 2012: Legal Literacy in Kachere
- October 2012: Diversion Training in Kanengo
- October 2012: Reflecting on Year 1 of IRLI’s Programme
This project is funded by Irish Aid and Human Dignity Foundation