The European Union (EU) has released K55 million to government institutions linked to justice delivery to facilitate implementation of measures to decongest the country’s prisons in the wake of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Through the Chilungamo (Justice and Accountability) Programme the Judiciary, prisons, Legal Aid Bureau and Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs are currently undertaking activities in Malawi prisons.
In an interview yesterday, High Court of Malawi and Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal registrar Agnes Patemba confirmed that the Judiciary has started conducting court camps in some prisons. But she said the process was a normal process of the court that provides a platform to hear cases of people that have been on remand for possible bail or release.
“This is a normal process. We always have court camps to look into cases of the prisoners on remand,” she said.
Malawi prisons are holding about 14 000 prisoners against a capacity of 5 000 prisoners.
Malawi Prison Inspectorate started its second and final phase of prison inspection on April 8 2020.
“The activity will begin with the inception meeting intended to take place at the Ministry of Homeland Security, Capital Hill,” reads the communication The Nation has seen.
Chilungamo (Justice and Accountability) Programme team leader Sophie Racine said the activities happen in normal time, but the programme decided to undertake the extra effort for the wellbeing of prisoners by adopting extraordinary measures to address the Covid-19 threats.
She said: “This is why there are so many activities taking place at the same time such as the camp courts, prison inspections and screening the critically ill in prisons. Decongesting Malawi prisons is extremely important at this point more than ever before.
“We are also happy with the coordination among the beneficiary institutions, notably the Judiciary, prisons, Legal Aid Bureau, Malawi Police, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and the Para Legal Advisory Services. It is extremely important that everyone in this country does their part to curtail the further spread of the coronavirus.”
Recently, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (Salc), in the awake of Covid-19 pandemic asked the Malawi Government to provide support to the Judiciary to conduct emergency camp courts at prisons to enable them to consider release with or without bail.
Salc asked government to consider prisoners on remand whose period in detention has exceeded the prescribed pre-trial custody time limits and have spent excessively long periods in detention pending judgement or sentencing. It also said all cases where there are numerous adjournments and those charged with petty offences but have not been granted bail be considered.
Malawi Prison Service (MPS) spokesperson Chimwemwe Shaba said in an interview that all the activities were normal and had nothing to do with the release of prisoners because of Covid-19 pandemic.
In his national address, President Peter Mutharika announced new measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The measures included decongesting the country’s prisons by releasing inmates convicted for minor offences, those in bad health and those with good behaviour.