Charity Awards 2024


Sparing people from death row in Malawi

In a landmark ruling in 2007, Malawi’s High Court declared the mandatory death penalty unconstitutional. In the wake of the decision, around 200 prisoners on death row were entitled to a new sentencing hearing in which mitigating factors such as mental illness, histories of abuse and a lack of prior criminal history could be brought into consideration.

ReprieveHowever, the lack of public defenders in Malawi and limited resources, support and expertise to carry out mitigation investigations meant that by the end of 2014, only one person had had their death sentence reviewed.

To prevent further stalling, Reprieve formed a coalition of national and international partners, including the Malawi Human Rights Commission, Centre for Human Rights and Legal Aid Bureau, to launch the Malawi Resentencing Project.

Over 10 years, the coalition worked to facilitate and secure resentencing hearings that met international fair trial standards, notably by upskilling lawyers and judges and conducting in-depth mitigation investigations which helped them to argue that eligible prisoners should not be handed a renewed death sentence.

In total, 163 people were released from death row, without a single death sentence handed down, and able to reintegrate into their communities. At the same time, the project paved the way for some of the world’s most progressive jurisprudence on the death penalty.

Not only did the project improve access to justice for some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in Malawi, but it also created support and momentum to abolish the death penalty among the country’s government, judiciary and public. It even prompted key politicians to publicly commit to ending the death penalty.

Charity Awards judge Farah Nazeer remarked that it is “much easier to get a law changed than to realise the law, particularly in the context of extreme resource scarcity in legal systems. So to help build the infrastructure and change the system around justice in that context is a really strong legacy. Also, the training and empowering of all of those in the legal profession will remain even when the project goes.”

CC Reg no. 1114900

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