Malawi Project goes from Strength to Strength

Malawi Project goes from Strength to Strength

 The last few months have been extremely busy in Malawi and Jane O’Connell has been doing an incredible job since the departure of Eithne Lynch and Paul Bradfield in October last year and who are greatly missed. Eithne has joined former IRLI Coordinator Rachel Power in PILA while Paul remains in contact from his new role in the ICJ in The Hague. Eithne, who worked with the Project in Malawi for 18 months, also continues to remain hugely involved in the work of IRLI through her volunteer support in Dublin.
 

Since the project was first established in August 2011, the IRLI lawyers have trained magistrates, police officers, advocates and paralegals in diversion, bail rights, due process, sentencing, child protection and human rights. The team has set up Diversion Programmes in 6 police stations in Lilongwe and while it is still in the early stages, police officers have reported 450 people diverted from the formal justice system in that time. Due to under-reporting, it is likely that that figure is even much higher.

Eithne Lynch Facilitated Training in Kanengo Police Station in October 2013

Eithne Lynch Facilitated Training in Kanengo Police Station in October 2013

IRLI works together with the Malawi Police Service to sensitise police officers as to the use of diversion as an alternative to prison sentences and for which cases this could be applied.  Regular training workshops are held, and key police officers identified who can share their knowledge and promote the use of Diversion to their colleagues. IRLI programme lawyers follow up with the officers and Police Stations on a regular basis to monitor progress and provide assistance where necessary.

IRLI is delighted to now welcome our two new Volunteer Programme Lawyers to the Malawi Project. Sarah Houlihan and Morgan Crowe traveled to Lilongwe in March to join Jane. Jane has been doing a fantastic job so we are thrilled to have a full team now again so we can build on the great work that has been done.

Morgan and Sarah will be working with IRLI in Malawi for the next 12 months on a volunteer placement, providing legal assistance to prisoners on remand as well as working with key partners to strengthen capacities in the criminal justice system. The volunteer placement programme is supported by Irish Aid who are one of IRLI’s main donors.

We were privileged to have Madam de Silva join the pre-departure briefing for the new volunteers in the Law Society on Saturday 22nd February 2014 to provide more insight as to the challenges faced and opportunities for the use of Diversion in the Malawi Police Service. Madam de Silva is Head of Community Policy in Area 3 and was instrumental in accompanying IRLI programme lawyers to meetings in the Police Stations as well as sharing her own experiences about the benefits of Diversion.

New IRLI Volunteer Programme Lawyers joined by Eithne Lynch, returned IRLI volunteer and Madam De Silva, Head of Community Policing in Area 3 Lilongwe

New IRLI Volunteer Programme Lawyers joined by Eithne Lynch, returned IRLI volunteer and Madam De Silva, Head of Community Policing in Area 3 Lilongwe

The Diversion Programme is one facet of IRLI’s overall approach towards addressing overcrowding in Malawi’s prisons and providing access to justice for the country’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Diversion offers the opportunity to reduce numbers within the prison system at the earliest stages of the criminal justice process. Malawian law allows for progressive restorative justice approaches, although due to a lack of widespread understanding there has been a reluctance to implement them. In this respect, the project is focusing on behavioral change within the system through providing training and building the capacity of key stakeholders.

In addition, since September last year, IRLI has worked with the Legal Aid Department and Paralegal Advisory Service Institue (PASI) to secure bail/release from pre-trial detention for 31 remandees. In September 2013, IRLI secured the release of a 54 year old man who had been incarcerated in Maula Adult Prison on suspicion of homicide since May 2007. No trial had ever been initiated and there was no indication of any trial happening in the near future. The project has also held 10 camp courts in Maula prison since 2011 to process the backlog of bail applications for prisoners who would otherwise remain on remand without access to legal representation.

The project in Malawi has been going from strength to strength and a recent external evaluation of the work has really affirmed this. IRLI is lucky to have benefited from very strong Irish volunteer lawyers who have established important links with partners in the key elements of Malawi’s criminal justice system. We are delighted to now have Morgan and Sarah as part of this team.

See Malawi Annual Report from October 2013 here