Mzuzu-based private practice lawyer Christon Ghambi says unbalanced sentences given by the courts to offenders are largely contributing to court or judge shopping in the country.
In recent years, several lawyers have been accused of judge shopping, a malpractice where lawyers allegedly connive with court officials to have their cases heard before particular judges whom they perceive to be lenient. Some lawyers have also been suspected of engaging in judge shopping by taking cases to courts in regions out of their base.
Speaking in an interview in Mzuzu yesterday, Ghambi, who was a delegate at the Law Commission Sentence Review Consultation Meeting, said disparities in handing of sentences have prompted some lawyers to prefer certain magistrates or judges over others.
He said lawyers tend to study judges and magistrates regarding their sentencing trends. He said some judges and magistrates are so predictable such that lawyers would target them or avoid them to have their way through.
Ghambi said other countries have proper guidelines and sentences are uniform. He said judges or magistrates should only follow those guidelines to ensure a balanced justice system.
He said: “We also get surprised and people also question some of the sentences. You will find that a person who has stolen a cow is sentenced to eight years imprisonment while a person who has stolen millions of kwacha is only given three years.”
Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal judge Edward Twea, who is chairing a Special Law Commission on the Development of Legislation on Sentencing Guidelines, observed that disparities exist in sentencing because every person appears before court as an individual.
He said courts also look into several factors relating to that individual case before giving sentence.
Twea said some offences deemed to be small attract stiffer sentences because of the impact of the crime in society.
However, the judge said there is need for consistency in the sentences so that justice is deemed to be fair. He said the review process will help bring laws that people can reason with.
The commission is holding consultation meetings to get views of stakeholders.