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Monday, February 11, 2013


A key component of the Irish Rule of Law International (‘IRLI’) ‘Access to Justice’ project has been its partnership with the Malawi Police Services. Since September 2011 an IRLI programme lawyer has worked in conjunction with the main Police Station in Lilongwe to implement a diversion programme and provide legal advice and assistance to officers in the police station. IRLI has delivered a number of workshops to officers on the use of diversion and legislative updates in criminal procedure. Diversion is a type of restorative justice principle, which literally “diverts” offenders away from the formal criminal justice system. This is the first time an international NGO has been granted such access to a police station.

Our work would not have been possible without the commitment and dedication of police officers within the Lilongwe Police Station. Sub-Inspector Fanny Chimbaya and Constable Yotamu Chaonaine have attended and participated in IRLI workshops. Both officers have agreed to share how the interaction with IRLI has impacted their careers within the Malawi Police Services.

Sub-Inspector Chimbaya and Constable Yotamu Chaonaine
When I asked Mr Chaonaine what was the greatest change he had seen in the police station as a result of our presence, he said  “diversion is now a reality in our police station. Your presence has helped officers to implement what they learnt at the IRLI training. Stand-alone training would not have achieved this”.  Mr Chaonaine said due to the shortage of lawyers in Malawi the police officers never had a qualified lawyer to spend time with police officers to identify cases that are suitable for diversion and the legal basis which permitted police officers to use this tool in combatting crime. This commitment by IRLI to provide a lawyer has greatly increased the skills of police officers. Mrs Chimbaya echoed this sentiment and said ‘after the training we had the skills to talk to our superiors about cases that were suitable for diversion’. Mrs Chimbaya says the use of diversion means that because minor cases are now dealt with at the police station, limited resources such as fuel, paper and police time can be concentrated on more serious offences. 

Mrs Chimbaya and Mr Chaonaine were also instrumental in the success of the IRLI/Venture Trust ‘Mwai Wosinthika – Diversion Aftercare Program’.  Both officers volunteered personal time to teach young people life skills to assist in the risk of recidivism by them. Mrs Chimbaya says “It makes me happy when I see young people returning to school and their excitement about their futures. Engagement with young people has positive consequences for the community because it reduces animosity between families”. Mr Chaonaine said he also learnt from participating in the program by the importance placed on the motto ‘PLAN-DO-REVIEW’ in his approach to his work.  Resulting from their dedication and commitment IRLI supported the application by Mrs Chimbaya and Mr Chaonaine to participate in the Commonwealth Scholarship Fellowship Program with Venture Trust.  We are delighted that they have been successful and will be travelling to Scotland with Venture Trust later this year.  We wish you every success!

Mrs Chimbaya and Mr Chaonaine have continued to excel in their knowledge of diversion and restorative justice and delivered two of IRLI’s diversion workshops to their fellow officers. When asked about this Mrs Chimbaya said ‘I now have the ability to deliver a training workshop on diversion. I can explain to my fellow officers what diversion means, when it is suitable to be used and how diverted cases should be recorded. I no longer fear approaching my superiors about cases because I have the confidence to articulate to them what is involved and the legal basis for my actions’. Mr Chaonaine expressed his gratitude to IRLI, he said ‘IRLI has developed my skills to present on this topic. A year ago I would not have had the confidence to deliver a workshop, especially to officers of a senior rank’.
Constable Chaonaine speaking at an IRLI Police
Training Workshop at Kanengo Police Station

Sub Inspector Chimbaya speaking at an IRLI Police
Training Workshop at Kanengo Police Station


Group Photo from the IRLI Police Training Workshop
at Kanengo Police Station

For my part the officers have been a constant guide to me and assist greatly on a daily basis in achieving the goals which IRLI has set with regards the ‘Access to Justice’ program.  There is plenty more work to be done but with the continued support by the Malawi Police Services it is certainly achievable.    

By Eithne Lynch, Program Lawyer, Irish Rule of Law International