Leaky courts, justice denied

 

The court file vanished when his case was approaching judgement in 2006.

Today, 11 years on, Friday Makondetsa, 42, is still on remand at Mulanje Prison as the High Court of Malawi’s Blantyre principal registry fails to trace the missing records.

But his case emotively confirms the mantra justice delayed is justice denied.

The murder suspect, from Jenala in Phalombe, has been confined in harsh conditions for the past decade before being convicted by the court.

Makondetsa was alleged to have killed his grandfather, Biliyati Savala, 91, after accusing him of witchcraft following the death of his father.

Prisoners scrambling for food at Mulanje Prison where Makondetsa has been remanded since 2006

Prison and court authorities confirmed his lengthy detention without fair trial.

According to Mulanje Prison station officer Charles Nyangu, the case stalled when High Court officials told them that the suspect’s case file could no longer be found.

“They told us it was hard for the court to conclude his case. So we kept him in prison while awaiting the day the court will tell us that they have found the file. Unfortunately, we still haven’t heard from them,” he says.

What is more worrisome to the prison official is that over the years, Makondetsa has developed diabetes, cancer and other health problems.

His condition has been deteriorating since he was diagnosed with diabetes last year-and he is not getting better despite receiving medical treatment.

“We fear he might lose his life while waiting for the verdict. This may turn out to be life imprisonment although he has not been sentenced. In the end, we may be haunted by questions as if we were negligent,” Nyangu explains.

Looking really sick and uninterested in talking, the overstayed remandee does not talk much about himself and his situation.

He only asks one question: Is the country’s judicial system run by human beings who know what they are doing?

While hoping to walk free some day, the incarcerated father of three thinks that some ill-minded people deliberately took away his case file to ensure he remains in confinement for life without following legal procedures.

“For all these years, I have been struggling to understand just how the whole Judiciary could fail to locate a case file or to come up with another option after realising that my file may be irrecoverable. And they claim what they are doing in the country is delivering justice, really?” bemoans Makondetsa.

He says it is painful to watch convicts come into the prison, serve their jail terms and leave him there while he is still waiting for his verdict.

“Some habitual offenders come and leave here. They serve their terms and come back, only to find me still waiting for the day the High Court will find it important to say: Makondetsa, we finally have your judgement now.’ It is painful,” explains Makondetsa.

He likens his uncertainties to the dilemmas of a person stuck in a foreign land, not sure whether to start building a house because he might be going back home sooner or later.

Apart from the diabetes, he has developed a tumour on his left chest which he claims doctors have not yet diagnosed as the malignant disease.

Magistrate Damson Banda of the Phalombe says he is aware of Makondetsa’s predicament and has made several futile attempts to have him served with proper and timely justice.

“We have tried to liaise with the High Court on the matter, but nothing has happened. Up to now, the answer remains that the file is still missing,” Banda says.

He suggests that Makondetsa’s way out could lie in hiring a lawyer either from the Legal Aid Department or a private law firm to assist him in bargaining for the conclusion of his case or a discharge order if it is impossible to conclude it.

Efforts to speak with Judiciary spokesperson Mulenga Mvula proved futile as his phone went unanswered for days.

Sections 41 and 42 of the Constitution provides for the right to access to justice and fair trial.

But when the courts and other institutions that are expected to defend and uphold the right to justice seem not to care about the laws, it raises questions as to how safe Malawians are in the hands of their judicial system.

Meanwhile, there could be more Makondetsas who continue to languish in the country’s unsanitary, overcrowded prisons-serving what could be akin to life sentences that were never handed down by competent judges, but some invisible hands that mess up with court documents in their custody. n

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