British Empire Article


Courtesy of OSPA


by Eric Bult
(Nyasaland Police, 1951 -64)
High Court Capers
Lilongwe
The Court at Lilongwe was a low circular wall of sun-dried earth brick with a single entrance, surrounded by pole pillars bearing a thatched roof. This modest structure had been erected as a temporary seat for the dispensation of justice owing to much needed renovation of the adjacent Court building. The low wall provided a convenient arm rest for the many enraptured onlookers assembled to watch the sitting of the circuit High Court. On this occasion, unlike the normal judicial proceedings, the major players, the Lord Chief Justice and the barristers appearing for the prosecution and defence, were attired to the delight of the audience in full regalia, their light grey wigs contrasting with black gowns. His Honour the Chief Justice was especially a source of delight in his scarlet robe edged in gold, and full wig.

The case on trial was one of motor manslaughter; two fatalities and several serious injuries had resulted from a collision between a heavy goods vehicle and a panel van on the road between Lilongwe and Salima, a township on the shore of Lake Nyasa some 60 miles distant. The prosecution case hinged on the relative positions of the two vehicles, and the visibility of each from the other as they approached the crash site from opposite directions. These factors provided a rich source of submission and counter-submission by opposing counsel as the trial unfolded.

My clear recollection of events is attended by an enduring memory of the Chief Justice, sweating profusely within his robes and headdress, holding to his nose a scented handkerchief to overcome the inimitable 'scent of Africa' emanating from the assembled throng.

As the cut and thrust of legal argument reached its crescendo, counsel for the defence took from his brief case a couple of Dinky Toy models representing the two vehicles in question. With a ruler he described in the sand floor of the Court a double line indicating a curved road and, placing the two model vehicles on the floor, continued his submission, using the models to indicate their passage before the collision. Prosecuting counsel then sprang to alter the position of the models, more accurately, he claimed, to show the true state of affairs immediately before the crash. When, however, the Chief Justice himself rose from the Bench to join in the discussion around the toys on the sand floor, the delight of those in the public gallery knew no bounds.

Colonial Map
Central African Federation Map, 1960
Colony Profile
Nyasaland
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 96: October 2008


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