Police and the court in Salima have said a shortage of magistrates in the district forces them to keep suspects at Nkhotakota District Prison or bundle some in congested Salima Police Station holding cells, resulting in a case backlog.
Salima has a single magistrate.
Both the districtâ€™s sole judicial officer, first grade magistrate Alex Kamtiki and police officer-in-charge (OC) George Dziko confirmed on Monday when officials from the Centre for Legal Assistance (Cela) inspected the police cells and held impromptu court trials to expedite delivery of justice.
â€œI am the only magistrate here and in a day, I preside over an average of seven to eight cases. This is compounded by the fact that many cases take longer because I have observed that the cases have many witnesses who also speak a lot and take time. If we were three or four, that would be better,â€ he said.
Dziko said lack of a prison in the district is costly as it delays trials and leads to overcrowding in police cells. Due to the overcrowding, the police authorities are at times forced to accommodate some of them in a police office.
Touched by the situation, lawyers operating under Cela organised what they called a camp court where they held impromptu court trials within the police premises and released four suspects on bail whereas one was convicted.
Cela legal officer Raymond Mwale said Cela held the camp court in response to a request from the police.