CHRR asks government to provide adequate support towards the Legal Aid Bureau.
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), is deeply disturbed by media reports that over 1,200 murder suspects cannot access justice due to lack of legal representation by the financially-crippled Legal Aid Bureau (LAB).
On Monday, 10th April, 2017, The Nation reported that nearly 1,200 murder suspects are languishing in some of the country’s prisons without prospects of trial, one year after LAB suspended defending homicide cases due to lack of funds. CHRR understands that the suspects have since spent a year on remand; some even more.
CHRR finds the development regrettable and a serious violation of constitutional rights, especially the right to access justice as stipulated under Section 42 of the Constitution of Republic of Malawi and other international human rights instruments, which the country ratified.
Reads Section 42(2)(v) for instance: “Every person arrested for, or accused of, the alleged commission of an offence shall, in addition to the rights which he or she has as a detained person, have the right to be represented by a legal person of his or her choice or where required in the interests of justice, to be provided legal representation at the expense of the State and to be informed of these rights.”
It, thus, sounds retrogressive that more than 20 years after the adoption of a Constitution with a comprehensive bill of rights enshrined in Chapter IV, Malawi cannot uphold and promote access to justice for its murder suspects. This needs urgent action on the part of government.
As CHRR and other stakeholders, we have always found disturbing that government has abdicated its serious constitutional obligation on the matter in the hands of donors, private sectors and other well-wishers. Unfortunately, relying on the benevolence of others has proved to be unsustainable and costly to the rights of the suspects.
Government needs to take charge and start providing adequate financial and human resources to the LAB. This could significantly be achieved through increased budgetary allocations to the LAB to enable the department to offer adequate and timely legal representation for murder suspects.
Lest we forget, every suspect is assumed innocent until proven guilty. It is, therefore, legally unwarranted to keep murder suspects in custody for years without offering them the right to access justice at a competent court of law.
As CHRR, we also believe that the recently launched Human Rights Section in the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs by the government, will go a significant stride in improving the human rights situation of the citizens, including murder suspects.
CHRR Executive Director
Released on Monday, 10th April, 2017 in Lilongwe