The European Union has on Thursday handed over the rehabilitated Magistrate Court and refurbished Victim Support Unit to the Likoma District.
Since its establishment as the District on its own in 1999 under the regime of Dr Bakili Muluzi, Likoma Island has been without a Magistrate Court and suspects of various crimes were being taken to Nkhata Bay Magistrate Court for prosecution.
Speaking after handing over the Magistrate Court, European Union Head of delegation to Malawi, Rune Skinnebach said EU, the Judiciary, the Ministry of Justice and the Malawi Police Services partnered under the Chilungamo Programme to ensure that everyone access justice as one of the pillars of a Democratic government.
“What does access to justice mean to us? In 2019 when the EU visited Likoma, access to justice meant an 8-hour trip on the Illala to the mainland, payment for that trip, spending a week in Nkhata Bay waiting for the Illala and paying for accommodation for that duration.
“In a Democratic country like Malawi, justice should be for everyone and everyone should be able yo access it. In 2017, for the EU,the Judiciary, the Ministry of Justice, the Malawi Police partnered to ensure that everyone accesses the justice,” said Skinnebach.
The Head of delegation has since urged the communities of Likoma District to make use of the Victim Support Units because is was established with the aim of protecting, promoting and upholding yhe rights of victims and survivors of various forms of the criminal activities, especially those involving vulnerable groups in particular women, goals and children.
Speaking on behalf of the Judiciary system, Chief Justice Rizine Mzikamanda the courts will act as guarantors of constitutionalism, human rights and justice according to law and the Judiciary is aware of yhe need to have justice according to the law.
“We, as Judiciary system, we are committed to serving all the people of this country in the spirit of delivering hostile and judicial services for all. The rich, the poor, the vulnerable and all other categories of people are wntitke to equality and justice according to the law.
“The courts commit themselves to continously giving effect to the deep values and will of the people as expressed in the constitution and all laws made under it.
“We thank the European Union for this tremendous Job that you have done for the people of Likoma District. Please, people in Likoma, let’s take care of the structures built here,” said Mzikamanja.
From the ministry of Justice, minister of the ministry, Titus Mvalo said time has now come for the people of Likoma District to access the justice that they have been struggling for for the past 58 years which is not only a human rights issue but also a breach of their constitutional right.
“The people of Likoma have been denied to access the justice for the past 58 years since we attained independence from the British Colony. This is not only a human rights issue but also a breach of their constitutional rights.
“Justice doesn’t take place in a political or social vacuum, but it is deeply affected by surrounding challenges and this is why the country have sometimes seen desperation strategies adopted by people who have run out of legal options.
“People have sometimes taken the law into their hands because of challenges that they have to access courts which could be non-existence in their areas,” he said.
From the Malawi Police Services, Inspector General Merlyne Yolamu was concerned with increased cases of Gender Based Violence (GBV) in the country, and particularly Likoma.
She said, while Likoma is a generally peaceful and secure district, the police station continues to register cases of abuse of women and girls.
“For instance, since January 2022, Likoma police has handled over 51 Gender Based Violence cases which include property grabbing, assault, failing to provide and child neglect,” says Yolamu.
The IG was also worried with mob justice cases, urging people of Likoma to follow the due process of the law, rather than taking matters into their hands.
“Sometimes innocent people are killed through mob justice. You now have a court here, and the Police, please use them,” she added.
With people accessing courts in Nkhata Bay, police and residents in Likoma admitted that the process was costly. For instance, Likoma Police prosecutor Pacharo Nyirenda said each trip (every week) required K180 000 for three officers, and at least K20 000 for each witness.
Magistrate Mkandawire, who used to visit Likoma just one week each month, said he could spend not less than K100 000 during such visits. He said it is now a big relief to stay in Likoma, and more so with the structure being handed over today.
As for Gogo Grace Nasidi of Khuyu area, who has on several times been to Nkhata Bay seeking justice, said it is also a big relief to have the court house in Likoma with a resident magistrate.
“I remember one time the suspect in my case was released on bail because I did not travel to Nkhata Bay for hearing. Later, I had to borrow K40 000 to travel,” said Nasidi.
Likoma Magistrates court catchment area covers a population of 14,527 under Senior Chief Mkumpha covering Likoma and Chizumulu Islands.
It is one of the 10 court houses earmarked for refurbishment across the country; seven – Mwanza, Mulanje, Nanyumbu, Mchinji, Nkhotakota, Chitipa, Likoma – are completed and work is underway in Balaka and Rumphi, yet to start in Dowa.