Malawi training

Frank Richardson introduces OpenTrial's App

Participants prepare their observation reports on a court case shown on film

Two one-day training sessions in trial monitoring and use of the innovative “Rights of the Accused” smartphone app for Malawi.

With its subtropical climate, plethora of fruits, the vast Lake Malawi teeming with fish, a diverse array of flora and fauna, tropical rain forests, open savannah, mountains, mineral deposits and both hydro and geothermal electricity generation potential, Malawi is a veritable cornucopia. It does face natural challenges too; but despite its obvious advantages, a majority of its people live in grinding poverty, surviving on less than £1 per day, and the country remains one of the poorest in the world. Weak rule of law has to be the main contender for the cause of this deprivation and impoverishment.

The local partner in this endeavour was the Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistancce (CHREAA). The first session was held at the Bridgeview Conference Centre in Lilongwe, on Monday, 24th April. About 30 participants – lawyers, NGO executives and paralegals – attended. Frank Richardson of OpenTrial, commenced the programme by explaining the content and aims of the “Rights of the Accused” app and went through the rights-of-detainees checklist on the app. Lionel Blackman, the Director of the Solicitors International Human Rights Group (SIHRG), then gave an introduction to trial observation and spoke about international trial standards and the very useful manuals that are freely avaialble. He went on to conduct an interactive trial observation exercise using a very well enacted film of court proceedings in India. Mid afternoon, Frank Richardson concluded the session by demonstrating that the app contained fair trial and detention rights explanations in both English and Chichewa, and introduced the fair trial checklist.

In the afternoon of Tuesday, 25th April, a press conference was held in CHREAA's offices in Jhango House, Chitawira Township, Blantyre. Nine members of the press from various media outlets attended and asked some searching questions when conducting their interviews.

Wednesday's presentation on 26th April, also took place in CHREAA's offices and followed the format of Monday's session. Forty-one participants – mostly paralegals and students of court journalism – attended. As with Monday's presentation, this one was also well received, and the app and trial-monitoring training elements complemented each other very well.

It became clear during the sessions that police corruption is endemic in Malawi and that most police officers avoid accountability by hiding their identification numbers. Judicial corruption is also suspected in many court cases, and enshrined, basic constitutional rights, such as the right to a lawyer on arrest, are not complied with (99% of detainees are not legally represented).