Malawi’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) wants to create parallel ‘traditional’ legal systems and give legal authority to ‘ chiefs and lay persons’, Ministre of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Samuel Tembenu has said.
According to Tembenu, chiefs will be at the helm of the traditional courts.
Chiefs will rule over their subjects, deciding on cases and handing down punishments, with near complete control over people and land.
Tembenu announced this in Lilongwe on Friday on the sidelines of the meeting which the minister, together with Lands, Housing and Urban Development Minister, Atupele Muluzi, had with chiefs in the country to expound the contents of the Land Bill.
He said government will start with one traditional court in each region and, would roll out at district level.
“These courts will have all the proceedings overseen by the chiefs, and conducted in vernacular because sometimes it’s difficult for concerned parties to follow a case through translation as it is done at magistrate’s court,” said Tembenu.
Tembenu, a trained lawyer, further said there was already in place Local Courts Act recognizing establishment of the traditional courts and that it was just a matter of evoking it.
The DPP government was widely condemned over local courts bill which was introduced by George Chaponda because of the bizarre crimes that were recognised, such as trespassing on burial places, insulting the modesty of women “writing or uttering words with intent to wound religious feelings” and “fouling the air (Kuphwisa)” – to promote “public decency”.
But the more important problem was that it created a parallel, largely unregulated local legal system.
Human rights groups are concerned, however, that these courts could end up playing an entirely different role, a role similar to that played by local courts the last time round, when as Traditional Courts they were used to silence political opposition during one-party rule in the country.
But Tembenu said the chiefs were already in-charge of adjudication of disputes at local level and it was only proper for the local courts to return for them to administer.
The chiefs have since received the news with excitement saying it would empower them even more in solving disputes at local authority level.
“It is a very welcome development and quite exciting to hear that the local courts will return and that, we, chiefs, will own and chair them,” said Senior Chief Chikumbu of Mulanje.
The meeting drew chiefs from across the country among them, Paramount Chiefs Chikulamayembe, Lundu, and Senior Chiefs Lukwa and Mwankhunikira.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :