Threat to British lawyer defending Dr Banda in murder conspiracy trial

TWO British lawyers have been closely involved on opposite sides in the build-up to a remarkable trial which is scheduled to begin this week in Malawi.

The trial, which could still face delays because of the problems of swearing in a jury acceptable to both sides, sees Malawi's former President, Dr Hastings Banda, being prosecuted in absentia on a charge of conspiracy to murder.

Geoffrey Robertson QC, the well-known liberal lawyer who successfully defended the Matrix Churchill directors in 1992, has been advising the prosecution in the marshalling of evidence and on the law.

Mr Robertson, an opponent of capital punishment, has advised the Malawi authorities not to pursue a murder charge, which in that country carries a mandatory death penalty, and in the past month this indictment has been dropped, leaving Dr Banda to face the lesser charge of conspiracy to murder. This carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.

Dr Banda and one of his former colleagues are being charged with conspiracy to murder four politicians who died in May 1983.

Dr Banda, who is 96, has been deemed too infirm to stand trial in person and is being kept under house arrest in Blantyre for the duration of the case.

Defending him is a team that includes Bernard Clarke, a 38-year-old partner in the London-based firm of Memery Crystal.

Mr Clarke, a former Cambridge University rugby blue who is also currently acting for creditors of the collapsed BCCI bank, was last week threatened with arrest and prosecution by Malawi's Director of Public Prosecutions after holding a press conference at which he queried the motives of one of the prosecution's key witnesses.

There have been several postponements of the trial already, partly because of Dr Banda's ill health and problems in empanelling a jury.

Last week Mr Clarke was warned by letter of his possible arrest and prosecution after he highlighted a controversial payment made to one of the key prosecution witnesses. Mr Clarke says a payment was made to Mrs E Kamwana, the widow of the former Inspector General of Police, which is to be used for the education of her son at a private school in England.

The payment, he said, was from the national co-ordinator of Malawi's Poverty Alleviation Programme, and could be viewed as a financial inducement to a prosecution witness.

The defence says that a witness has come forward with a signed statement suggesting the following:

n that Mrs Kamwana has known the Malawi President for some time and that he personally asked for her assistance in providing information in the murder case;

n that Mrs Kamwana is a close friend of at least one other prosecution witness, an officer who, having admitted his involvement in the murder, was subsequently charged. He, it is said, first approached Mrs Kamwana asking her to provide information. Later he became a prosecution witness. The charge against him has subsequently been reduced to abuse of office and he has been released on bail;

n that Mrs Kamwana has received other money from the Poverty Alleviation Fund and other sources.

Mr Clarke rejects the suggestion that he has tried to libel the Malawi Director of Public Prosecutions and says that the contents of a letter from the Poverty Alleviation Fund were a matter of public interest and were as much a subject of concern for the prosecution as for the defence.

"This trial should be seen to be fair," says Mr Clarke, who adds that he has reservations about whether the defendants can have a fair trial.

Mr Clarke has conveyed his concern about the threats that have been made to the defence team to Baroness Chalker, the Minister for Overseas Development.

He wrote to her: "These developments are very worrying for us.

"At present we have an Assistant Solicitor, Benjamin Kent, in Malawi and Clive Stanbrook QC is due to travel to Malawi for the resumption of the trial on 24 July 1994.

"In the circumstances we thought that we should inform the Foreign Office and the Malawian High Commission (to whom this letter is being copied) of the current situation."

Geoffrey Robertson is unlikely to play a role in prosecuting the case in court because the Malawi authorities prefer to have the prosecution led by a local lawyer.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: LGV Driver - Category C or C+E

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national Company that manu...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - OTE £30,000

£13000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Assistant

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Maintenance Assistant is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?