The High Court of Malawi has put aside execution of an 18-month custodial sentence the Lilongwe First Grade Magistrate’s Court slapped 41-year-old Yakilini Chinsepo with for attempted suicide.
The decision follows an application to the High Court by the Chief Resident Magistrate’s (CRM) Court in Lilongwe in July this year to review the sentence and consider reducing it on the basis that it was excessive for a first offender who also saved the court’s time with a guilty plea.
The offence committed attracts a maximum of two years, but the First Grade Magistrate’s Court meted out more than half of the maximum sentence.
The CRM recommended that since Chinsepo had been in custody from May 11 2022 when he was arrested, the 18 months sentence should be set aside and substituted with a sentence that will result in his immediate release.
Presiding High Court Judge Bruno Kalemba, in his ruling dated August 4, faulted the 18-month sentence meted out to Chinsepo.
He confirmed the conviction, but reversed the sentence of 18 months’ imprisonment to a term that could result in the immediate release of the accused.
He said: “It is wrong to sentence a person against whom no previous conviction is proved, to undergo imprisonment unless it appears to the court, on good grounds [which ought to be set out in the record], that there are no other suitable ways of dealing with him.
“The record does not show that the magistrate considered these sections and it seems to me that had the magistrate done so the court below would have reached the conclusion that there were other appropriate means of dealing with the accused person.”
Lilongwe CRM Madalitso Chimwaza said looking at the rate men were committing suicide in the country, the best option was to send the suspect for counselling and not to jail.
She said what Chinsepo needed was psychosocial support to examine the reasons behind his suicidal thoughts.
Said Chimwaza: “Imagine in his mitigation he told the court he had children who were depending on him. Much as attempting to commit suicide is an offence, but a custodial punishment may not be the right punishment.”
Cases of suicide have been on the rise in the country, particularly among men, which experts have attributed to depression and tough economic times, among others.
Psychologist Professor Chiwoza Bandawe is on record as having said that cases of mental health problems are growing and warrant national attention.
Besides depression, he cited alcohol and substance abuse, psychosocial conflicts, psychosocial tension and financial challenges. Other mental health issues include anxiety and stress disorders.
In an interview yesterday, another psychologist Moses Muwotcha, hailed the ruling to reverse the sentence, adding there is need to take Chinsepo for counseling.