Paralegal Advisory Service Institute (Pasi) has asked government to find solutions to solve overcrowding in prison facilities in the country.
Speaking in Mponela, Dowa on Tuesday during a media workshop on the Chilungamo-Access to Justice Programme to orient journalists on paralegal and village mediation services, Pasi director Clifford Msiska said there are over 13 000 inmates in 31 prison facilities nationwide, most of them awaiting trial.
He said the country’s courts are under-resourced and have a huge backlog of cases; hence, so many people are languishing in prison.
Msiska said that is why paralegals and village mediation services play a key role in the justice system.
He said: “Paralegals assist those who are currently serving to ensure justice for people in conflict with the law. They provide legal information about the law and the procedures to those being held in places of detention.
“Their work helps speedy processing of cases as well as reducing the number of late trials among the prison population.”
Msiska said Pasi paralegals and village mediators work with vulnerable people who get arrested or find themselves within the criminal justice system who cannot have access to lawyers because of the fees.
He further said they also provide a cost-effective approach to increasing access to justice.
In his remarks, Malawi Prison Service Commissioner of Prisons Clement Kainja said overcrowding in prisons has been a matter of concern for a long time.
“Overcrowding in prisons has been a matter of concern as it amounts to violation of human rights. So, we cannot emphasise more on efforts that ensure that issues of overcrowding are addressed,” he said.
He commended Pasi paralegals and village mediators for facilitating justice for vulnerable people, most of whom are otherwise forgotten in prison facilities.
On his part, Justice Mzonde Mvula noted that with overcrowding in the prisons and few lawyers to take offenders to court, the paralegals are key in access to justice.
“Most people that are locked up are unaware of their rights. But we are glad that paralegals go to [police and prison facilities], to do the screening exercises and ensure that they access justice by, for instance, taking them to court,” he said.
Pasi services are currently available in 115 police establishments 91 court and 29 prisons.
The Chilungamo-Access to Justice Programme through village mediation and paralegal services project is being implemented by Pasi with funds from European Union and United Nations Development Programme.