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Chanco Students Fight Vagrancy Laws

January 15, 2017   Kondwani Dennis Kumitengo
Chanco Students pose outside the court
On Tuesday, 10th January, 2017, members of the Paralegal Resource Centre (PARECE) partnered with the Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) and joined other organizations in a fight against some of the vagrancy laws in Malawi. An application had been presented to the Principal Registry of the High Court to make a determination on the constitutionality of section 184(c) of the Penal Code which creates the offence of being a rogue and vagabond.

The applicant was Mayeso Gwanda, a street vendor who sells plastic bags. He was arrested one morning, walking to the city center of Blantyre where he plies his trade. His trial was stayed pending this determination. In this matter, he was represented by Mr Mandala Mambulasa of the Malawi Law Society.

PARECE is a students’ organization that was founded at the Law Faculty of Chancellor College with the purpose of providing free legal services to disadvantaged people, hence its interest in this matter, although it did not join the case as amicus curia. The organizations that joined the case as amicus curiae were CHREAA, the Legal Aid Bureau and Paralegal Advisory Services Institute (PASI). They were represented by Trouble Kalua as the legal counsel of the Legal Aid Bureau, Fostino Maele as the counsel of PASI and Violet Jumbe as the legal counsel of CHREAA while the state was represented by Ms Itimu and Chakaka Nyirenda. 

The student members of PARECE were from different faculties at Chancellor college and they travelled to the High Count in Blantyre in order to express their disagreement to this offence of being a rogue and a vagabond which ostensibly violates several rights of citizens as provided in the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi. 

The three judges tasked with hearing the matter were Justice Dr Mtambo, Justice Kalembera and Justice Zione Ntaba. After hearing the legal counsel from both sides, the court gave its ruling in favour of the applicants and this had the subsequent effect of declaring unconstitutional the said section 184(c) of the Penal Code which creates the offence of being a rogue and vagabond. This brought joy and celebrations among the organizations that were supporting the application, including the Paralegal Resource Centre (PARECE).