Access to justice for the poor of Malawi: an appraisal of access to justice provided to the poor of Malawi by the lower subordinate courts and the customary justice forums

Access to justice for the poor of Malawi: an appraisal of access to justice provided to the poor of Malawi by the lower subordinate courts and the customary justice forums

Is the Malawi Justice System friendly to the poor?

Malawi is a country attempting to cope with the challenges of consolidating the structures and processes of democratic rule. That is a mammoth and daunting undertaking in a resources-deprived country. The focus of this study is access to justice for the poor people of Malawi. And when we say access to justice we mean access to both the (non-state) customary system of justice (applied by the customary justice forums of traditional leaders) and the state's justice system. The study examines the lived reality of poor people when they need to have their problems dealt with by institutions outside their immediate family.

The results of this study are aimed at assisting the Malawi Law Commission in its project on the structure of the courts. But we hope that the rich information gathered in this research process will also be of relevance in deciding how customary and state institutions could work in closer harmony for the benefit of poor Malawians.

Some of the study’s recommendations include:

  • the starting point should be for the law to clearly address the transition problems
  • the structure and distribution of magistrate courts needs to be revisited
  • the deployment of magistrates should be seriously looked into
  • there is need to overhaul the operation of the system so that it is more user-friendly to the uneducated and unsophisticated litigant
  • the magistrates should be given discretion to conduct the matter in vernacular should language be a barrier
  • courts must take their civic education role seriously - courts should also provide information to litigants through leaflets and posters
  • government should train and deploy paralegal staff to rural areas who should provide advice to litigants on how to deal with their claims.
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