HL Deb 06 July 1995 vol 565 cc1244-6

3.26 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they are making to the Government of Malawi to ensure a fair trial for Dr. Hastings Banda and others.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Malawi Government are obliged to give Dr. Banda and his co-accused a fair and public hearing. We expect those obligations to be fulfilled completely. We shall be monitoring the trial and note that the defence counsel is British. There are no grounds at this stage for us to make representations.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, in thanking my noble friend for her helpful Answer, perhaps I may also thank her on behalf of the people of Malawi for all that she has done over many years to help that very poor but very beautiful and kind country. However, in view of what she has just said, is my noble friend aware that on 14th February 1995 the Director of Public Prosecutions of Malawi said on the BBC World Service that the decision to arrest Dr. Banda and others was entirely political and not made by his department?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am always pleased to do all that I can for poor countries in the world. I was, of course, aware of the comments that had been made on the BBC, but not all comments that have been made on the BBC and in other places about that situation have been wise or accurate. We have sought to ensure that the trial is properly conducted. We have through our "Good Government" initiative arranged training in the UK on the conduct of jury trials for Malawian judges, including Justice Mkandawire who is presiding at this trial.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, may I ask the Minister to bear in mind that this country of ours is looked on throughout the world as the country that created democracy and decent justice? To that extent, will she add to the excellent statement that she has just made by assuring the House that we shall attempt to get the support of all democratic countries on this issue? I believe that our country can provide that lead and that we shall be supported.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, this is a very vexed issue but, as the noble Lord knows, we have not only sought to promote sound democracy in emerging countries, but to ensure that they have the training and the institutional capacity to run a proper judiciary which has due respect for human rights. It is critically important that human rights are properly respected both in Malawi and other countries. There have been improvements in the past year or so in Malawi. Where democracy is to flourish, it is right that there should be freedom of the press, freedom of speech and full regard for the courts of law.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Dr. Banda is a very old man with a very long and distinguished record of public service? Will she assure the House that Her Majesty's Government are watching carefully to see that, if he has to be put on trial at all, he has a fair trial?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we are all aware of the many years of dutiful service that Dr. Hastings Banda has given to Malawi. We have been at pains to ensure that any trial, and particularly this trial, is conducted properly. The trial is now expected to start on 10th July when the judge will hear pleas. The jury selection is planned for 11th July. The whole world's eyes will be on the conduct of justice in Malawi. That is absolutely right and proper.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the Minister agree that merely because of the tyranny and repression which characterised the previous regime it is tremendously important that this trial, of all trials, should be conducted in a way beyond reproach? Does she realise that she will have the full support of this side of the House in ensuring that that happens? Will she inform the House how much priority is given within the aid budget towards strengthening the administration of justice as part of good governance in the third world, to which the Government are committed?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Judd. He is absolutely right: this trial must be conducted in a way that is beyond reproach. That is why the United Kingdom has focused much of its support for good government on the proper training, for jury trials, of judges and of others. I can give the noble Lord details of the training attachments: six High Court judges and two Supreme Court judges are being trained in this country; and three jury trial workshops are being conducted in Malawi to ensure that that happens. I am glad that we have the full support of the Opposition. All the work that we are doing in institution building in Malawi and other countries is designed to make them self-sufficient in running a system which is responsible and which enables every person to be heard before a court, with a proper defence, and that they be judged innocent until they are proven guilty.