Stories from UNODC Southern Africa

Malawi Magistrates Urged To Use Alternatives To Imprisonment


Malawi magistrates and other officials attend a training session organized and supported by UNODC on alternatives to imprisonment as the country moves to address overcrowding in prisons


Lilongwe, Malawi- The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has held a series of training sessions on alternative sentencing for Malawi magistrates in line with recommendations of United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures (The Tokyo Rules).

Adopted by the General Assembly in 1990, the Tokyo Rules provide guidelines and safeguards for persons subject to alternatives to imprisonment while also promoting greater community involvement in the management of criminal justice. They also promote a sense of responsibility towards society among offenders. Additionally, they seek to promote human rights and support the rehabilitation of offenders for successful reintegration into mainstream society.

In a speech delivered during the training of magistrates throughout different parts of Malawi last week, the Honourable Justice Dr. Chifundo Kachale, a Judge of the High Court of Malawi, expressed optimism that the training would build the capacity of the country's magistrates to use custodial sentences wisely.

"As Magistrates, whilst we sit on the bench, presiding over matters and in the application of the available legal instruments for each unique case, we are required to make sufficient considerations before passing our judgments. Among the paramount considerations, is whether to give a custodial sentence or otherwise," he said.

Justice Kachale added that he hoped the training would, to the extent possible, result in uniformity of sentencing, "otherwise we often risk ending up with scenarios where each Judicial Officer concludes a case in ways contrary to others."

In Malawi, community service was introduced as an alternative to custodial sentencing in the year 2000. He further stated that, if applied, it could reduce the number of prisoners and by extension, overcrowding in Malawi prisons. 

"From the reports of the Malawi Inspectorate of Prisons, it is quite clear that prison conditions in Malawi are overly inconvenient with appalling living conditions for inmates. Although seemingly peripheral to our work as Magistrates, this is a factor we must consider when passing judgments," the Judge advised.