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Malawi:Justice Minister Gives new Directive in VP's Treason Case

Malawi’s minister of justice and constitutional affairs Bazuka Mhango has issued a directive against a jury trial in the treason case involving Vice President Cassim Chilumpha. Mhango said the move would help expedite the treason case, which has been ongoing since last year. The defense team is however not satisfied with the minister’s directive claiming it has political undertones.

Mhango said he has a constitutional mandate to give a particular directive when it deems fit.

“All we have under the law is a provision that allows the minister to give discretionary statements as to how you conduct the trial. Now the trial of judge with a jury in Malawi requires setting up of about 12-man jury, and when you look at the experiences we have had in terms of meeting our backlog of cases, I think we can do a much faster job if we have a single judge dealing with these matters,” he said.

Mhango denied that the government is refusing to have a 12-man jury to oversea the treason case against the vice president.

“It is not that we are refusing for the jury to be set up. We are saying between the two systems: trial with the judge alone and trial with a jury, which would produce a faster result? And therefore, the move of the denial of justice through delay, and this is the basis of our instructions to say that is a matter that could be tried without a jury,” Mhango noted.

He said all the state wanted was to expedite the treason case.

“You can try anybody and the law doesn’t make an exception to the stature of an accused person. All we are saying is that we would like to be able to conduct this trial so that we can have the desired result without delaying, and this is what we have done,” He said.

Mhango dismissed questions raised by Vice President Chilumpha’s defense team as baseless.

“The fact that the defense are questioning the exercise of the discretion is not something of much substance because they are fully aware that this is a discretion that can be exercised as long as you exercise it on the proper procedures and of course direction that is taken,” he said.

Mhango denied that the government is tampering with Malawi’s independent judicial system.

“That is incorrect; no one has actually questioned my exercise of the discretion. All they recognize is that discretion has been exercised and no one is actually implying that we are tampering with it,” Mhango said.

He denied speculation that he has been refusing to explain the rationale behind his directive.

“That is not true, because I have been available. I just came from Lilongwe and I have been in my office this afternoon. No one has actually raised any issue or even reached or approached any of my secretaries to find out if anybody wanted to talk to me about the exercise of discretion,” Mhango said.