Lack of funds bedevils access to justice

14 February 2020 | Justice

Namibia is struggling to serve justice because of inadequate funding, Chief Justice Petrus Shivute said at the official opening of the legal year this week.

The biggest headache is the magistrate's courts, which have recorded a paltry 21% delivery rate. According to Shivute the underperformance of the lower courts is mainly caused by shortages of courtrooms and magistrates. He pointed out that there is severe pressure on the Namibian judicial system since most criminal trials require publicly funded legal representation.

“In especially criminal matters, no trial can take place without the participation of publicly funded witnesses. If there are no funds to pay witness fees, no criminal trial can take place.

“That is a reason for much of the delay in the finalisation of criminal trials in our courts. Another factor is the speed with which legal aid is granted to accused persons,” said Shivute.

The chief justice added that this situation was further aggravated by delays in police investigations, who are themselves affected by budget cuts, and often this presents a challenge to the prosecutor-general's office who must decide whether or not to prosecute.

Shivute's remarks followed a call by President Hage Geingob on Namibian lawyers to consider pro-bono work to help ease the burden on the legal system.

The president also supports the introduction of a small claims court.

“This type of court set-up is common in other jurisdictions and presents an ideal opportunity to improve access to justice. Although it is not a panacea for all challenges facing the legal profession, it will significantly contribute towards enabling more of our citizens to access the courts,” Geingob said.

[email protected]

JEMIMA BEUKES

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