Friday, August 20, 2010

Formal couts' backload irk Malawian chiefs

Malawi's traditional court system, which was hitherto used by the one party regime of Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, got dissolved at the onset of multi-party system of politics to exorcise Malawians of the bad memories the system created following the hanging of many political prisoners convicted and sent to the gullows through the system, but chiefs are now crying for the re-institution of the system.
As a result of the development, most citizens shun the system only seeking redress over petty community issues.
Noel Msiska, Mwanza Primary Justice System Coordinator, revealed that, even with the abolition of the system, 90 per cent of Malawians still has access to it.He attributed the development to the high cost of legal services which has meant that only the previleged few enjoy access to the formal court system.
" Over 60 per cent of Malawians live well below the poverty line and cannot afford to pay legal costs but problems still abound in terms of chiefs capacity in conflict and dispute resolution management as most of them do not keep records.
"The other issue is bias; communities have accused chiefs of being biased towards relations and this has helped shift the attention from the traditional system to formal courts," said Msiska.
According to Msiska, research conducted by the British Department for International Development (DFID) and Malawi Access to Safety ,Security and Justice (MaSSA J) -a community justice programme- revealed glaring discrepancies in record keeping and conflict resolution management among traditional leaders thus affecting patronage.
Mwanza District Commissioner, Frank Kalilombe, under which the initiative falls being part of the Malawi Local Government component, blamed the silmutaneous decline of cases handled at chiefs level ,and the insurgence of serious criminal activities in the district to lack of coordination by players as every one wanted to work in isolation in a bid to enjoy unilateral donor funding.
As a result, he said, violence against women and children has sky-rocketed, piling pressure on the country's security system.
But a High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal Spokesman said there was nothing courts could do to prevent people wishing to seek justice from accessing the formal court system, pointing out that is a constitutional right every citizen was entitled to.
Currently, the country's courts are overwhelmed with cases some of which, like murder, the country cannot dispose off on its own as it depends on donor support notably from DFID.

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