Namibia: Slow justice dents public trust

GROWING backlogs in Namibia’s courts are contributing to negative public perceptions and experiences with the country’s courts, president Hage Geingob warned during the Office of the Judiciary’s opening of its legal year yesterday.

There has been a consistent outcry about court rolls being full and matters brought before the country’s courts taking long to be finalised, Geingob noted in an address during the opening, which took place on an internet platform.

He said a backlog of cases in the courts “in turn clouds the overall image of the administration of justice, which creates a lopsided image of the rule of law in the country”.

Geingob called on role players in the administration of justice to ensure equitable access to justice and speedy finalisation of matters before the courts.

He also asked for “a sense of social justice” to be maintained when administering the law.

“Let us ensure that every member of our society, no matter their race, tribe, gender, age or social status, can have confidence that they have access to legal services and fair trial,” Geingob stated.

Also speaking during the opening, chief justice Peter Shivute said disruptions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic have affected courts, with both the High Court and lower courts finalising fewer cases than in previous years.

In the High Court, 43 criminal trials were concluded during 2021, compared to 46 criminal trials finalised during the pre-pandemic 2019 and 42 criminal trials concluded during 2020.

In Namibia’s regional courts, only 443 cases – representing 16% of the 2 773 matters dealt with in those courts – were concluded during the past year, figures released by the Office of the Judiciary yesterday show.

The district courts dealt with 45 708 cases during 2021, of which 16 156, or 35%, were finalised.

Shivute said the judiciary is doing its best with limited resources.

“What we do and how well we do it means the difference between a functioning democracy and one where the public loses respect for the rule of law because of a dysfunctional legal system,” he remarked.

The chief justice noted that the Office of the Judiciary’s annual budget allocation of N$371 million over the past two years has not been adequate to cover all of its operations.

The judiciary had unpaid invoices totalling N$28 million at the end of March 2021, and anticipates a shortfall of N$32 million on its operational expenses during the 2021/22 financial year, he said.

Its financial situation is not expected to improve in the next financial year, with a provisional budget allocation of close to N$349,5 million expected at this stage, Shivute indicated.

He also touched on what he termed a worrying trend of misconduct cases involving staff members in the lower courts during the past year. Shivute said 94% of misconduct cases dealt with by the judiciary’s human resources directorate involved lower court personnel, with 65% of those cases involving theft or fraud.

“This is intolerable,” the chief justice said.

“Theft of public funds by staff members of the Office of the Judiciary does not bode well for the public’s confidence in the judicial branch,” he added, saying this was something which should receive serious attention and should be nipped in the bud.

Original story on The Namibian

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