A history of Malawi’s criminal justice system: from pre-colonial to democratic periods

Author: Lewis Chezan Bande

ISSN: 2411-7870
Affiliations: Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Malawi.
Source: Fundamina, Volume 26 Issue 2, p. 288-336


This contribution traces the historical development of the criminal justice system in Malawi, from the pre-colonial period, through the colonial and independence periods, to the contemporary democratic period. It highlights the major political hallmarks of each historical period and their impact on the development of the criminal justice system. The contribution shows that all aspects of the current criminal justice system – substantive criminal law, procedural law, criminallaw enforcement agencies, courts and correctional services – are products of political and constitutional processes and events of the past century. Their origins are directly traceable to the imposition of British protectorate rule on Nyasaland in the late nineteenth century. The development of the Malawian criminal justice system since then has been heavily influenced by the tension and conflict of colonialism, the brutality of one-party dictatorship and the country’s quest for a constitutional order that is based on liberal principles of democracy, rule of law, transparency and accountability, respect for human rights, limited government and equality before the law. To properly understand Malawi’s current criminal justice system, one has to know and appreciate its historical origins and development.