The Judiciary has admitted that lenient sentences that some magistrates mete out on convicts of sexual offences, especially those perpetrated against minors, are a cause for concern to human rights defenders.
Chairperson of the Judiciary Training Committee, Justice Chifundo Kachale, was speaking in Lilongwe on Friday when he opened a magistrates’ workshop on sexual offences with a focus on child defilement.
“Generally, the sentence to be imposed by a magistrate for a sexual offender depends on the facts of each case. The major concern of the human rights defenders is that penalties being imposed by trial courts are too lenient and there is generally lack of consistency.
“Although, the sentencing principles emphasise the importance of consistency in sentencing, it has long been noted that the vast discretion left to magistrates when sentencing has the negative effect resulting in widespread inconsistency in sentencing,” said Kachale.
He observed that handing proportionate sentences was vital for courts to act as deterrence to similar crimes.
He also cautioned the public to note that sentencing was not “an exact science” and that magistrates have to account for several variables in sentencing such as individual offenders’ aggravating and mitigation circumstances.
The training is part of the judiciary’s implementation of its strategic plan which, among others, has improved effectiveness and efficiency of Judicial Systems administration as an objective.