Supreme Court of Appeal Judge, Justice Jane Ansah, has said “absurd, disproportionate and inconsistent” sentences handed down to offenders by the courts have created a sense of skepticism among the citizenry on the work of the judiciary.
Ansah made the remarks in Lilongwe today when she officially opened a two-day national consultative conference on the development of legislation on sentencing guidelines.
The conference has been organised by the Malawi Law Commission (MLC)’s Special Law Commission with funding from the European Union (EU) Democratic Governance Programme.
And Ansah said it is understandable for Malawians to question the criminal justice system, particularly where a judicial officer imposes different sentences to persons convicted for the same or a similar offence, and on the same or similar set of facts.
“A sentence pronounced by the court is the most visible aspect of the response of the criminal justice system to an offender. As such, sentencing is one area which has made some sections of our society to view courts or the criminal justice system in general with skepticism,” said Ansah.
Chairperson of the Special Law Commission Justice Edward Twea said disparities in sentencing result from, among others, difficulties in accessing the relevant law as judicial officers source most of the details on the law of sentencing from the Common Law.
Twea also said the competencies of prosecutors, counsel and judicial officer have, therefore, been depending on how much they have “informed themselves on sentencing from the case of law and scholarly work”.
“And to address this problem, the Special Law Commission on the Development of Legislation on Sentencing Guidelines was empanelled in 2013 to review the current sentencing practice with the view to develop legislation on the sentencing guidelines,” he explained.