Cries from remandees

Luka Phinifolo has been on remand at Maula Prison in Lilongwe since 2017 and never went to court. He said he was involved in a fight with a friend at a pub in the Central Region district of Mchinji. He was charged with murder and transferred to Maula Prison.

By Wezzie Gausi

When one is arrested, the society’s expectation is that the dish of justice will be delivered within a reasonable time.

Justice delayed is justice denied, so they say. Delayed justice leads to psychological distress for families of the victims.

Luka Phinifolo has been on remand at Maula Prison in Lilongwe since 2017 and never went to court. He was arrested on allegations that he killed someone.

He said he was involved in a fight with a friend at a pub in the Central Region district of Mchinji. After the fight, the other person collapsed and died on his way home.

Mchinji Police Station operatives arrested Pinifolo a day later.

He was charged with murder and transferred to Maula Prison. He has been on remand since then.

“I was very worried to note that days turned into weeks, then months and now years without going to court. While on remand, I have come across people who have never seen the inside of a courtroom despite being arrested long ago.

“It is now close to five years since I was arrested. I have lost hope and I don’t know whether this country has a justice delivery system that is working,” Phinifolo cried.

Another suspect is Yona Mayilosi, who has been on remand for three years at the same Maula Prison. He was arrested on suspicion that he killed a newly born baby together with his wife.

Mayilosi said being on remand for many years is traumatising and gives no hope for justice delivery.

“This is a cry most of us, who are in prison, have. We don’t know where we can run to for justice. Many people on remand could be innocent and, so, there is a need for the justice delivery system to move with speed.” Mayilosi said.

Maula Prison Remand Registry in Charge, Tanazio Lipenga, said there is a need for speedy handling of cases, especially those of suspects who have been on remand for many years.

“It is true that we have many people on remand and most of them have, indeed, not gone through the walls of the court. It is our plea that, if there could be a way of speeding up justice processes for the people that stay long on remand, let the processes be put in motion,” Lipenga said.

The slow pace at which justice is delivered in the country prompted Paralegal Advisory Service Institute (PASI) to introduce village mediation programme in 2008 to handle disputes at local level instead of the court.

Pasi National Programmes Coordinator, Chimwemwe Ndalahoma, said: “Legislation passes slowly in Malawi. A number of amendment bills have been submitted to the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs; for example, the Legal Aid Act, Penal Code [amendments], Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act, Prison Act to include paralegals but there is little progress.”

Recently Legal Aid Bureau Director Masauko Chamkakala said what is happening in the criminal justice delivery system leaves a lot to be desired, adding that the system has many errors that need to be corrected.

Centre for Human Rights, Education, Advice and Assistance Executive Director, Victor Mhango, said there are numerous errors and gaps in the way criminal justice processes are done.

He cited the long wait of suspects on remand as one such error.

“The way the courts, police and legal practitioners exacerbate the vulnerable position of the suspects and prisoners is very much unreasonable. Through a report by Malawi Prison Inspectorate, we have also noted that the sentencing by magistrates continues to be harsh and, in some instances, unlawful,” Mhango said.

A report by Malawi Prison Inspectorate indicates that the justice delivery system is haunted by challenges that include low numbers of lawyers, judges, high legal fees and overcrowding of inmates.

The country’s Legal Aid Department attempts to help the poor by offering free legal services but the bureau lacks financial resources.

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