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Advocates in Malawi. Trip may lead to training initiative.

News - date posted 18/01/2013

Two members of the Bar have been on a fact-finding trip to Malawi to see whether the Faculty of Advocates can help with the training of court lawyers in what is one of the world's poorest countries. The faculty was approached by Challenges Worldwide, a not- for- profit organisation, currently delivering a Capacity Building for Justice Programme in Malawi.

The visit could lead to the Faculty exporting its successful advocacy skills training programme to legal systems in other parts of the world.

Challenges Worldwide provided funds for David Young QC and Neil Mackenzie to spent five days in the sub-Saharan east African country which has a population of about 15 million. English is the official language but nine other languages are routinely spoken.

They discovered that the legal system in Malawi is to some degree reasonably well developed with a constitution, lawyers trained at University level, a court system ranging from magistrates to a Supreme Court, a Director of Public Prosecutions, an Attorney General, a legal aid system, a Human Rights Commission, an Ombudsman and a Law Society.

However, they also found that the system was under severe strain, with no official law reports since 2004 and only about 400 practising lawyers, of whom only 16 carry out legal aid work. Language, cost and travel also appear to be barriers to formal justice.

As well as meting representatives of the legal institution, David and Neil observed courts at various levels. This included a murder trial in which a woman was charged with killing her six-month-old daughter by giving her paraffin or some other form of poison, although the handwritten post mortem report on a single sheet of A4 concluded that the baby had been starved to death.

The motive alleged by the prosecution was that the accused wanted to marry a man who was not the child's father and who, it was alleged, did not want to take on a stepchild. Both sides in court were represented by lawyers only three years out of university.

The case was adjourned after the defence argued that there was no case to answer.

Pamela Woodburn, Challenges Worldwide's Director of Operations said "We are delighted that the Faculty is interesting in working in partnership with us and hope that the Scottish Government will be able to extend the current programme to include advocacy skills training and importantly training for trainers . This would help achieve a long term sustainable solution for the justice sector in Malawi"

David Parratt, the Faculty's Director of Training and Education explained: "Over the years the Faculty has developed a first class advocacy skills training programme which is held in the highest regard not just in Scotland but in other jurisdictions.

"So far we have concentrated on training for devils but we have occasionally held ad hoc training sessions for lawyers in other jurisdictions.

"The scoping visit to Malawi by David Young and Neil MacKenzie shows that there is a considerable need for advocacy training in this developing African country. In conjunction with the Scottish Government's long term assistance and development programme there, the Faculty is extremely pleased to be in a position to assist with that.

"We hope this initiative also marks the start of the Faculty's involvement with the training of lawyers in advocacy skills worldwide. The skills programme developed here is not jurisdictionally based and interest has been expressed in Faculty involvement in advocacy training in other parts of the UK and further afield.

Although training by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal service has already proved valuable in Malawi most lawyers have not yet received training in effective advocacy and there are considerable delays in bringing prosecutions with a high turnover in prosecutors due to relatively poor pay.

The advocates took with them an information pack with material about the Faculty, its training courses and samples of training materials. They found a unanimous view that the kind of advocacy training provided by the Faculty, suitably adapted to Malawian needs, was lacking and urgently required for both law students and practising lawyers.

David and Neil met Supreme Court Justice Andrew Nyierenda, the Director of Public Prosecutions, a representative of the Law Society and visited the Law College at the University.

They welcomed the prospect of training in advocacy skills and instructor training and interest was also expressed in training in more specialised areas such as the handling of vulnerable and expert witnesses and in early, effective case analysis and preparation.

The ultimate aim would be for Malawian lawyers to provide their own advocacy training.

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