PASI are the Paralegal Advisory Service. PASI was created originally in response to life-threatening conditions in Malawi’s prisons as a project of the non-profit Penal Reform International. At the time, the prisons were overcrowded, with high death rates due to starvation, the spread of disease, and police brutality and torture. Prisons lacked meaningful rehabilitative programs, with prisoners often languishing in jail for years awaiting trial, and no access to legal advice.

Malawi had only 300 lawyers to serve a population of 14 million people. To address these problems, PASI started its focus on training paralegals and ensuring the establishment of a permanent paralegal presence in Malawi’s prisons, especially due to the dearth of lawyers and the high cost of their services. Paralegals monitor the human rights situations in prisons and provide legal advice and assistance to prisoners.  With a focus on alleviating overcrowding and getting remand prisoners out, PASI has proved to be extremely valuable. These highly trained paralegals are able to talk to clients, talk to witnesses, conduct a lot of investigative work on cases, and provide this information to public defenders. Paralegals also conduct training in prison where they involve the prisoners in skits that show them how to navigate the justice system, and to help them better understand legal proceedings. Prisoners who know their legal rights are better able to advocate for themselves in court. They have been at the forefront of  implementing a cost-effective and innovative method of improving access to justice and legal services for all in Malawi.

Between Nov. 2002 and Jun. 2007 PASI’s prison clinics have empowered about 150,000 prisoners to represent themselves in court, apply for bail, present a mitigation plea, or draft an appeal to the High Court and PASI’s work reduced the overall remand population from 40-45% of the overall prison population to only 17.3%.

We were delighted to be working with PASI in Malawi and to have recently got a write up in PASI’s January newsletter which set out the role PASI foresees IRLI playing within the Malawian criminal justice system

… volunteer Irish lawyers are working with PASI in Malawi in their daily visits to prisons to educate those held awaiting trial of their rights. The volunteer lawyers assisting in the processing of bail applications, improving and record systems and file management in court offices and training of PASI paralegals.

Below is a proposed list of achievements the Irish Aid Pamodzi Rule of Law Malawi Project expected at the end of the period.

  •  improve access to justice
  • improve conditions in prisons
  •  provide civic education to prisoners on their law and their rights through practical workshops held in prisons
  • simplify court and criminal procedures for prisoners
  •   improve record keeping
  •   assist in training of paralegal staff
  • improve court systems and case management
  •   develop legal education for all in Malawi

We have been very fortunate to work with Clifford Msiska and Chimwemwe Ndalahoma and their staff of highly trained paralegals over the past few months and hope to be soon starting a more tangible project in the prisons with them over the next term….so stay tuned…

Due to its success, the PASI model has been replicated in Kenya, Benin, Uganda, Niger and  Bangladesh.

By Sonya Donnelly, Programme Lawyer with the Malawi Project.

See original here