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Courts urged to protect vulnerable groups

Blantyre, March 25: The Judiciary has been urged to interpret and fashion the law to ensure fulfillment of principle of equality on the various vulnerable groups in the country.

Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda made the call to colleagues in the system on Friday in Blantyre during the launch of a book compiled by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) highlighting the role of the courts in protecting the less privileged.

According to the Chief Justice, whose paper makes the first chapter of the just launched book, the Malawi law champions protection of human rights and the judiciary as one of the enforcing arms needs to work with the existing laws to ensure that the vulnerable enjoy their human rights just as everyone else.

“The legal profession is a valuable resource relevant in enforcing the ending of discrimination which is affecting various groups in the country including, women, children, prisoners, those living with albinism, those living with HIV and Aids and more,” said Nyirenda.

He said the judiciary should work towards improving accessibility of the legal services by the venerable as well as improving the courts atmosphere for the ordinary man.

“The court set up and the language used must be user friendly as normally, courts are daunting places and every person would rather spend their day in their homes or attending to their personal business.

As such, the courts must ease the tension that comes with it,” added Nyirenda.

Explaining his stand on the vulnerability of women when it comes to sex cases, Justice Lovemore Chikopa said the offence is probably lesser than the ordeal encountered during the trial.

According to Chikopa, every man has the obligation to ask and get consent before having sex with a female yet currently the courts presume that the victim said yes because she never said no.

“Some questions that the victim is asked during a rape trial are more disturbing and embarrassing such that some women fail to explain their stand clearly as such offenders have walked away not because the victim consented but because she never said no verbally,” explained justice Chikopa.

Chikopa called for the improvement of technicalities and procedure in dealing with gender identity in court as one way of assisting the vulnerable women.

Justice Kenan Manda emphasized on the role the judiciary can play in improving the living standards of inmates in the country’s prisons.

“The courts need to work towards the 2007 resolution which aimed at halving the prison population,” explained Manda.

Manda indicated that the courts could help the situation by giving community service sentences and reasonable fines to other offenders as compared to custodial sentences which puts the prisoner at a high risk of contracting diseases that are rampant in the prisons.

“There is such high prevalence rate of HIV and Tuberculosis in our prisons and surely if the courts do not embrace other options apart from custodial sentence, it will strain our economy and the health sector,” explained justice Manda.

Manda added that, “currently there are reports of drug resistant TB in the prisons and surely the courts should ensure that those that can be reformed out of the prisons should do so to reduce the risk.”

“Currently the status at Chichiri prison is that one patient with drug resistant TB can spread the bacteria to 16 people in the vicinity in four hours.

“Surely this calls for the judiciary to ensure that the sentences passed matches the offence in efforts to protect the vulnerable who are in most cases in conflict with the law at most,” hinted Manda.

The book on using the courts to protect vulnerable people has the perspectives from the judiciary and legal profession in Botswana, Zambia and Malawi.


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