Parliament, stakeholders in support of Legal Aid Act amendment

The Prison Inspectorate has weighed in its support for the proposal to amend section 34 of the Legal Aid Act to allow for legal representation by legal assistants at subordinate courts in the country. 

Prison Inspectorate Chairperson Justice Kenan Manda has told a parliamentary legal affairs committee public hearing that lack of legal presentations has seen some people being sentenced to prison when they were not supposed to if they were legally represented.

In an interview, Justice Manda says the absence of the legal assistants has resulted into justice not being served on the offences committed by vulnerable people.

He said: “We just observe the results of the lap of legal representation which is at certain instances you have people that are sent to prison when they are not supposed to be sent to prison.

One of the major challenges that we face as an Inspectorate is that people are sent to prison for very minor offences.”

Concurring with Justice Manda, Legal Aid Bureau Director Masawuko Chamkakala said the Bureau is optimistic that concerned stakeholders will consider their proposal despite an objection by some quarters.

“In all fairness I think it was a good process which we have imparted what we wanted and we also gained some of the knowledge from the other stakeholders.

“We have always been hopeful, we carefully did thorough analysis even before we approached the Committee, and we had to be sure of what we wanted,” said Chamkakala.

Meanwhile, the Committee`s vice chairperson McDowell Mkandawire said it has received a positive feedback from majority of stakeholders and that the committee will soon be summoning Solicitor General, Malawi Law Society (MLS)  and Attorney General towards a common goal.

“It is clear that most of them are for change, change in the sense that they would like paralegals in various entities to be given limited audience to represent vulnerable people.

“After these consultations, we have come up with a way forward and we would want to meet the Attorney General, Solicitor General including the MLS, we don’t want to ambush them,” said Mkandawire.

According to MLS, Malawi has a total of 627 licensed while the Bureau has 25 lawyers and 36 paralegals. Paralegals have been working in the country`s justice system since 1964.

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