Malawi launches new criminal justice case flow system

Mobile training unit members were trained in the last week of July 2015 on the new registers, case folders and court diary, designed to ensure pre-trial detainees do not get "lost" and that time limits in the criminal justice system are met.

In Malawi's pre-trial audit published in July 2011, among the findings were that there was no standardised system of record-keeping in the Malawi criminal justice system and no compliance with Malawi's custody time limits and delays in the finalisation of cases.

In 2012 further research established that the reasons for this included a lack of knowledge about the laws relating to time limits, a lack of sympathy among officials for pre-trial detainees, and a lack of a documentation system to track the progress of cases through the various stages of criminal procedure. Indeed there is no system in place ensuring cases appear on the court roll when they are supposed to and that pre-trial detainees are only detained on valid remand warrants.  

During 2013 and 2014 a series of consultations following on the findings of this report lead to the development of new case folders, registers (for court and prison) and a court diary which are intended to assist courts in ensuring cases are placed on the court roll timeously in order to ensure time limits are met. In addition a set of public education posters and a pocket guide to arrest and detention were developed and finalised in later 2014. These have now been printed after some delays, possibly related to Malawi's "Cashgate" woes. The posters highlight the constitutional and legislative time limits in Malawi law; the rights relevant to detention contained in the Malawi Constitution; the law relating to arrest and possible release at the police station; and the law relating to possible release after appearing in court.

In July 2015 mobile training unit members, who comprise paralegals as well as court, prison and police officials, participated in a train-the-trainer workshop which will see them distribute the new official documents as well as the public education materials across Malawi. The workshop highlighted the fact that currently there is no system of ensuring compliance with the 48-hour rule, custody time limits, remand warrant renewal requirements, and overall time limits on the completion of cases. The new materials have the potential to revolutionise the way in which Malawi's criminal justice system works. Currently there is reliance only on the police prosecutor to move cases forward and paralegals have many tales of pre-trial detainees simply becoming "lost" in the system. Now, the courts will have more control over case flow and prisons too will be more aware of time 

The project is under the auspice's of the Malawi Ministry of Justice and funded through the EU Democratic Governance Programme. The research informing the project and the development of the various materials was funded by the Open Society Foundations. 

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