CCJP advances adult offenders’ diversion law cards

The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace of the Archdiocese of Lilongwe (CCJP Lilongwe) says consultations and advocacy to advance the introduction of the adult offenders’ diversion law have reached final stages.

The stakeholders to the consultation meeting with Justice Edward Twea SC sitting (Center) on front row

The consultations on the amendment of Malawi’s Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code (CPEC) to accommodate provisions for diverting minor offences committed by adults started in 2010 using the Child Justice Act as a learning point.

In Malawi, it is only child offenders below the age of 18 who are not committed to prisons to serve their sentences. Instead, they are referred to reformatory centres where they are molded into becoming responsible citizens.

However, with funding from the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), CCJP Lilongwe is now championing the diversion law of adult minor offences as one of the measures to decongest the country’s prisons.

Secretary for CCJP Lilongwe, Noel Kondwani Mtonza, said in an interview yesterday that the Commission has made strides in its advocacy, with major criminal justice stakeholders agreeing on the need to have a diversion law for adult minor offences.

“It is only the modalities of ensuring how the amended law would become applicable in Malawi’s context that are delaying us. We do not want to jump any procedures and stakeholders because law matters are very sensitive. We will do more consultations with the technical support of the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs,” said Mtonza.

He said CCJP Lilongwe is working with other stakeholders such as the Judiciary, the Ministries of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare and Justice and Constitutional Affairs and the Malawi Police Service to achieve its goal.

Among others, the proposed amendments say that adults who have committed minor offences such as stealing livestock, foodstuffs and household items should not go to prisons, but should be allowed to confess their wrong acts, apologise and return to the owner what they stole.

If they cannot return property, they would be allowed to use whatever skills they have to work for the offended person or community for an agreed period.

The amendments further state that there might even be diversion for bigger offences depending on circumstances and situations surrounding the committing of such crimes.

Mtonza said the diversion law will help Malawi in many ways including reducing congestion in the country’s prisons that are abnormally full because of minor offenders.

He added that the law would also promote living in harmony as there would be more reconciliation in the communities.

Judge of the Malawi’s Supreme Court of Appeal, Justice Edward Twea SC, who is helping in drafting regulations for the diversion amendments using his experience as Chairperson for the National Child Justice Forum, concurred with Mtonza, saying adults must have a chance to change like children.

“Adult diversion is an opportunity to those that have committed minor offences to admit wrong and be willing to undergo diversion options to be empowered and avoid going to prison. Remember, some of these adults could be teachers or anyone who have very useful skills that they can impart to children or work for the betterment of the community for what they did wrong,” said Twea.

However, the judge was not sure when the proposed diversion amendments and their regulations would become applicable, just hoping that cabinet and Parliament will expedite approval.

In the meantime, Twea has urged CCJP Lilongwe and other stakeholders to intesify awareness so that people understand all this concept of diversion law for adult minor offences.

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