IRLI has been training commercial lawyers from underprivileged communities over the last 13 years in South Africa, and we have been working in Malawi on access-to-justice issues for ten years.
We have just started a new project on cases of child sexual abuse in Tanzania, and have previously worked in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Kenya, Myanmar and Vietnam. We are also examining a number of potential exciting new projects.
Our work in Malawi is focused on the central region of the country, chiefly around the capital of Lilongwe. We have a permanent in-country presence in Malawi, and the programme has gone from strength to strength and is making a real impact on people’s lives.
Child diversion programme
We have programme lawyers embedded with the Legal Aid Bureau, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the judiciary, and the Malawian Police Service. We also work in the child-diversion field, seeking to take children out of the criminal justice system.
Working in conjunction with our local partners, our work is especially life-changing for women. In the last 18 months, we have assisted 14 women and adolescent girls who experienced miscarriages, stillbirths, or severe mental-health issues, and were subsequently charged with infanticide and remanded in custody.
Working with our local partners, we ensured that each woman was released on bail from prison. All had been held for periods between six months and four years without trial. While each infanticide case is different, there tend to be common themes: abandonment, poverty, social stigma, loneliness, and fear of authority.
In addition, each woman is dependent on overstretched legal-aid lawyers, with little possibility of a trial in the near future.
In the last few months, given the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been putting copious energy into advocating for the decongestion of Malawi’s hugely overcrowded prisons, which are running at an occupancy level of over 260%.
We have been advocating for prison decongestion with other civil society organisations, while at the same time increasing our focus on individual cases. Since the beginning of pandemic restrictions in Malawi, our work has led to 116 people being freed on bail at several ‘camp courts’.
‘Camp courts’ are held in prisons where cases are reviewed by criminal judges and bail can be granted. During the same time period, IRLI has also worked on 28 successful bail applications before the High Court.
IRLI also works to ensure that children held in police custody or prison are brought to appear before the Child Justice Court rather than remaining in police cells or brought to adult prisons.
In the past year, 186 children have appeared before the court in Lilongwe, and IRLI provided support in all of those bail applications. In total, 167 children were granted bail.
IRLI also runs a child-diversion programme called Mwai Wosinthika (‘Chance for a Change’ in the Chichewa language) in collaboration with the Ministry of Gender, diverting children who come into conflict with the law away from the formal criminal justice system and into the community instead. In the past year, 46 children have passed through this programme.
Another challenge in Malawi is that it is common for mentally-ill accused persons to be held in prolonged police detention, sometimes for up to two years without trial. However, legally accused persons can remain in pre-charge detention in police cells for a maximum period of 48 hours.
IRLI was recently made aware of two men who had been held in the police cells for over five months. Our lawyers seconded to the Legal Aid Bureau, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the Malawi Police Service worked closely together to ensure the men’s cases were listed before the court.
In court, the judge ordered that one of the accused’s charges be dismissed, while the other accused was sent for a fitness assessment and was later discharged.
Day by day, IRLI works to build the capacity of the criminal justice institutions in Malawi and to increase respect for the rights of accused people experiencing mental illness.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, IRLI has rescheduled its commercial law seminar to Thursday 8 October. This will be closely followed by our ever-popular criminal law seminar, to be held in late November. These events help the organisation to raise badly needed funds for its work.
Both events will be held in the Distillery Building in Dublin. We also hope to have further events via webinar in the upcoming months, and will be giving regular updates in the Gazette.
We would actively encourage those interested in the work of IRLI to join us on our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram pages. If you would like to donate to IRLI, you can obtain details on doing so at www.irishruleoflaw.ie.
Furthermore, opportunities to work for or volunteer with IRLI will be advertised on those platforms. If you require any information on IRLI or its work, please contact us on email@example.com or via our social media platforms.