The High Court of Malawi has released from jail eight prisoners on death row after judges commenced rehearing their cases in February this year.
The eight convicts escaped the wrath of capital punishment following a 2011 review of Section 210 of the Penal Code that declared mandatory imposition of death penalty unconstitutional.
Initially, the section provided that “any person convicted of murder shall be sentenced to death”, meaning it did not allow court to exercise discretion in sentencing a murder convict.
Judiciary spokesperson Mlenga Mvula confirmed yesterday the eight were freed after the High Court reheard their homicide cases between February 11 and March 23 2015.
Said Mvula: “I can confirm that the eight convicts were immediately set free after resentencing, right now they have been reunited with their communities.”
Mvula said High Court judges replaced the prisoners’ death penalties with new jail sentences upon rehearing their cases individually.
There are 192 homicide cases pending resentencing out of which 22 have already been reheard. All the cases are being reheard at High Court Zomba District Registry.
Of the 22 cases, three are pending judgement, seven were reserved waiting for more submissions from the State and defence counsels while four resulted in “determinate length of incarceration.”
According to Mvula, judgements for the three cases will be delivered next week when the judges would have finished writing them.
He said the second phase of the rehearing of cases started yesterday April 23 and will end on May 25, 2015. During this period judges will make fresh judgements on 16 homicide cases.
The rehearing of the cases comes after Kafantayeni and others challenged courts, arguing they cannot be on death row as Malawi does not provide the ultimate sentence.
In 2011, the section was amended allowing the courts to exercise discretion in sentencing a murder convict taking into account mitigating and aggravating factors and peculiar circumstances of the case to decide whether to impose a lesser sentence.
After the amendment of the section, the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) in conjunction with other non-governmental organisations launched a ‘Death Row Inmates Resentencing’ project in 2013 to facilitate resentencing of all convicts on death row. The project will phase out this year.
Other implementing institutions include the Paralegal Advisory Service International, the Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa), Chancellor College and the Malawi Prison Service.