Update on Malawi ‘Access to Justice’ Programme
2015 has started off as a very busy year for the team in Malawi – hard to believe we are nearly half way through the year already. You can read below in more detail about the progress which has been made on the Programme’s different areas of work since December last year: Capacity Building in the Legal Aid Bureau and Office of the DPP; Police Training Programme on the Proper Treatment of Child Suspects and the Concepts of Restorative Justice; Community Sensitisation Workshops; and Provision of Legal Assistance to remandees and prisoners in Maula adult prison and Kachere juvenile reformatory centre.
We were delighted to welcome Sarah McGuckin BL, a barrister from the Bar of Nothern Ireland, to the team in March as the new Programme Lawyer in the Legal Aid Bureau. However, it also meant that we were saying goodbye to Morgan Crowe who had been with us since March 2014 and who finished his placement with IRLI in Malawi in April. Morgan had invested allot of his time in Malawi to progress the cases of chronically ill prisoners as well as highlighting the rights of prisoners through organising a series of events in the prisons to commemorate International Human Rights Day last year. He will be greatly missed by the team and our colleagues in Malawi.
Advocacy Workshop and DPP
One of the largest activities which IRLI has undertaken this year was the 3 day Advocacy Training Workshop which was held in Lilongwe in partnership with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA) and Justice Advocacy Africa (JAA). Huge credit must be given to IRLI’s Programme Lawyer Orla Crowe for organising this event with the help of the IRLI team. Orla is based in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and has been compiling a joint DPP/IRLI Handbook in order to develop best practices on dealing with homicide cases. However, she is also responsible for organising training workshops for Magistrates, and the Advocacy Workshop fitted in under her broader focus on capacity building within the DPP.
Over the past number of months, IRLI has met with High and Supreme Court Judges as well as Resident Magistrates on numerous occasions. One of the main issues raised by them was the need for capacity building of advocates, paralegals and police prosecutors with regard to the trial process and advocacy skills – particularly in homicide cases. It came to light during these meetings that many advocates, paralegals and police prosecutors require further knowledge on many aspects of the trial process, such as the calling of witnesses, the trial process to be followed when an accused person pleads guilty, the hearsay evidence rule, etc.
Advocates in the DPP’s office had previously received week long advocacy training from NITA. However, this training ceased a number of years ago and had not been received by the majority of advocates and paralegals in the DPP’s office. In addition, IRLI learned that such training was never provided to staff members in the Legal Aid Bureau (LAB) or to police prosecutors.
A 3 day workshop was therefore organised for April 8-10 and a number of NITA and JAA facilitators travelled to present elements of the programme together with Malawian facilitators. A total of 38 participants and 11 facilitators attended the training. IRLI was delighted to be able to invite former judge of the European Court of Human Rights Ms. Anne-Power Forde SC to travel and participate as one of the facilitators in the workshop. The training was very well supported by the Irish Embassy and the Irish Ambassador to Malawi, Ms. Áine Hearns, attended and made the welcome speech as well as hosting a reception for the course facilitators and key programme partners. Minister for Justice, Hon.Samuel Tembenu also attended the workshop and made the Opening Remarks on day one.
Our Programme Manager Jane O’Connell has been working very closely with the Malawi Police Services to expand and further develop the Police Training Programme on the Proper Treatment of Child Suspects and the Concepts of Restorative Justice. Since July last year, Jane has organised workshops in the Police Stations of Kasiya, Kawale, Lingadzi, Zomba and for the Sub-Units of Area 3. The programme is facilitated by IRLI but led predominantly by officers from the Malawi Police Services.
The workshops focus on the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act, 2010, particularly as it relates to children suspected who have committed offences. They look at the arrest, detention and bail of child suspects as well as Preliminary Inquiries and Child Justice Courts as established under the Act. Finally, the workshops also focus on the use of diversion, which is a form of restorative justice, in terms child suspects. Diversion can be defined as the channeling of prima facie cases away from the criminal justice system with or without conditions. It may be triggered on first contact with the law and allows police officers to deal with offenders in a more effective and efficient manner. Offenders are allowed to return to their lives and their livelihoods and family are not disproportionately affected. At the same time, the burden on the prisons and court system is lessened.
IRLI has also been expanding these trainings to other Districts within the Central Region and the Districts of Dowa and Salima were identified for this year. Jane traveled to both Dowa and Salima Districts during the month of March to deliver two 2-day multi-stakeholder workshops. The workshops were attended by Police Officers, Chairmen of Community Policing Forums, Social Welfare Representatives, members of the Judiciary, and members of the Community Service Office. We were delighted also that representatives from Plan International and the Camp Manager at the nearby Dzaleka Refugee camp attended the training in Dowa. Each workshop was attended by approximately 60 people, the majority of whom were officers from Dowa or Salima respectively but also from other neighbouring Districts. IRLI works very closely with the Malawi Police Services Headquarters in the development of these workshops and we have received funding from the EU Democratic Governance Programme in Malawi to roll out the training to an additional two Districts later this year.
Since January there have been three community sensitisation workshop carried out in the Traditional Authorities of Chinsapo (February), Chuizira (March) and Tsobango (May). IRLI works together with local community leaders, the Malawi Police Services, the Legal Aid Bureau and the Judiciary to deliver a morning programme which aims to educate the targeted community about the criminal justice system; the role of the police; the rights of the accused including bail; and the rights of the child highlighting diversion as an alternative to custodial sentences. Educating communities about diversion and bail is particularly important as misperceptions can lead to a belief that an individual has bribed an official to secure release and may then be at risk from the community who feel that the formal justice system has failed and may take matters into their own hands. Additionally, many people are not aware of their right to legal aid, to bail or that they cannot be held in a police station for more than 48 hours. Not only is it important that a country provides rights for its citizens, but citizens must be informed and empowered to enforce these rights. Programme Lawyer Morgan Crowe and Programme Officer, Mark Johnson, have been instrumental in the organisation of these workshops.
- Mwai Wosinthika
Mark also has responsibility for IRLI’s ‘Mwai Wosinthika’ Child Diversion programme which ties in with the community sensitisation efforts as well as the wider Police Training which is led by Jane O’Connell. The ‘Mwai Wosinthika’ Programme (meaning ‘a chance for change’) is intended as an alternative to custody for children and youths in conflict with the law. The programme is complimentary to the Malawian Constitution and the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act 2010. The Programme is implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Community Development, the Malawi Police Services and the Malawi Judiciary.
Each 12-week programme offers space for approximately 15 participants, aged 11 – 17. Many of the sessions are “activities based sessions”, which allows participants to interact more freely. The sessions are facilitated by police officers and social welfare officers with the assistance of two youth leaders (who are also key members of the Scout Association of Malawi) who play a central role in co-ordinating the activities. The Programme seeks to empower the young people by giving them the responsibility, and the choice, to make changes in their behaviour and in the ways in which they deal with life’s problems. The Programme offers support and guidance for young people who want to make a change in their life.
IRLI has just completed one Programme which was attended by 19 young people, 14 of whom attended the final graduation ceremony although a follow up will undertaken with the remaining 5. IRLI and Mwai Wosinthika Facilitators then climbed Nkhoma Mountain just outside Lilongwe with the participants who completed IRLI’s first Mwai Wosinthika programme of 2015 and there was a graduation ceremony the following week to mark the occasion.
- Legal Aid Bureau
There have been institutional changes recently as the former Legal Aid Department officially became the independent statutory body of the Legal Aid Bureau, together with the appointment of new Directors. IRLI had become embedded in the daily work of the Legal Aid Department and we are now formalising that role within the new Legal Aid Bureau (LAB). Our Programme Lawyers Morgan Crowe and now Sarah McGuckin continue to work with the advocates and paralegals in the LAB to progress the cases of unrepresented persons in Maula adult prison and Kachere juvenile reformatory centre as well as pushing for the organisation of prison camp courts for chronically ill prisoners. IRLI also conducts cell inspections in local police stations to ensure adherence to the 48-hour rule as well as monitoring overcrowding and the detention of children.
In-house training for paralegals has continued this year, with one workshop on Appeals being held in April and another on interviewing homicide remandees being scheduled for late May. IRLI will also be undertaking an important workshop for advocates in partnership with St. John of Gods about the sensitivities and mitigating factors which they may face when dealing with remandees and accused suffering from mental health difficulties.