“Politicking” derails progress in Section 14 of the Legal Aid Act amendment debate

The Malawi Legal Aid Bureau (LAB) Director General, Masauko Chamkakala, has revealed that “some politicking” has derailing progress in the debate on the proposed amendment of Section 14 of the Legal Aid Act, which would allow legal aid assistants to represent clients in minor cases both civil and criminal.

Chamkakala disclosed that both politicians and lawyers are involved in the politicking on the matter.

However, he has assured that the Bureau remains resolute in pushing for amendment of the Act to ensure that every Malawian, including the most marginalized poor, should have access to legal representation in the event that they contravene the law.

Chamkakala–We need to make progress as a nation–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times

Chamkakala made the remarks in Lilongwe today during a meeting the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) convened in Lilongwe with financial support from a consortium of the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and Danish Church Aid (DCA).

CCJP is implementing a project called “Enhancing Social Accountability in Local Governance to Reduce Inequalities for an Inclusive Malawi”, which seeks to reduce underlying socio-economic inequalities that are worsened by poor and defective local development policy.

Chamkakala revealed that there is some politicking around the debate on the proposed amendment of the Section 14 of the Legal Aid Act.

“Some of us are not interested in such politicking. Our interest is to see the amendment made and passed into law to ensure that even the marginalized Malawians can have access to legal representation when they are in conflict with the law,” he said.

He said the Bureau is overwhelmed by the support it is receiving from the civil society in its push for the review and amendment of the Act.

Chamkakala and CSO leaders banging heads on what they can do to see the amendment of Legal Aid Act through–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times

Chamkakala emphasized that as a young institution, but full of very cunning young men and women trying to set an institution whose operations are way above the standard of civil service, it is imperative that the civil society should support its cause.

He said it is against this background that LAB expresses joy receiving unwavering support from the civil society.

“We are quite humbled with the support we have received from the civil society. It is time we found ways how we can unlock the resource of paralegals in Malawi. And we will need support on how we can do these things,” stressed Chamkakala.

He added, “We have a lot more cases in this country than the lawyers. 602 lawyers who are licensed and cases close to one million registered with the judiciary. This system is in a crisis and therefore we need to do something as soon as yesterday. We should appreciate that we do not have enough hands in the legal sector. We can tap in from the resources of paralegals.”

Chamkakala also commended the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament for facilitating consultations on the proposed amendment of the law.

In his opening remarks, Youth and Society (YAS) executive director Charles Kajoloweka warned that CSOs will not allow someone to curtail the debate around the proposal.

In a separate interview, CCJP national coordinator Boniface Chibwana said the Commission believes that improving access to justice for the poor is key to achieving social equality.

CCJP is one of the 12 civil society organizations supporting the amendment of the Act.

Others are YAS, Paralegal Advisory Service Institute (PASI), Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Human Right Defenders Coalition (HRDC), Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) and Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre (MHRRC), Church and Society Programs of the Synod of Livingstonia, Citizen Alliance, Youth Watch Society and Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi (APAM).

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