No more state legal aid

With perpetual failure to pay lawyers enlisted by the Legal Aid Directorate, government is suspending the scheme through which many accused persons relied on to seek justice.

19 February 2021 | Justice

JEMIMA BEUKES







WINDHOEK

The ministry of justice has announced a moratorium on legal aid services, leaving some accused without legal representation amid claims that government does not have money to pay lawyers.

Namibian Sun understands the moratorium was imposed last September, and there is no indication until when the moratorium will be valid.

Gladice Pickering, the justice ministry’s the executive director, yesterday said the stoppage forms part of a bigger overhauling process.

“There are so many factors and reasons for the decision. We are busy reforming the legal aid framework completely,” she said.

This comes at a time when former justice minister Sakeus Shanghala’s application for legal representation from the State in the Fishrot court case is being considered by the office of the attorney-general (AG).

Shanghala, through his lawyers, in December 2020 submitted an application to the AG’s office seeking legal help. He wants government to provide legal representation or pay his legal fees.

The AG’s office yesterday said the application is still under review. No date was given as to when a decision will be made.

Meanwhile, the legal team of former fisheries minister Bernhardt Esau, who is also facing similar charges as Shanghala, said he did not apply for legal assistance from the State like his counterpart.

‘Preferential treatment’

According to lawyers, government has been struggling to honour its financial obligations to private law firms for months now.

Kadila Amoomo from Kadhila Legal Practitioners confirmed that some court cases are not granted legal aid because of budgetary constraints.

He bemoaned that some lawyers wait for months to receive payment from government for legal representation, while a select few are given preferential treatment.

“There is more to that. Some lawyers - including mine - have decided to stop accepting legal aid because of favouritism in the manner in which payments are made. Only a few lawyers’ invoices are paid while many lawyers’ invoices are paid either late or are taxed ridiculously lower than other lawyers,” he said.

Detrimental

The Ombudsman, Advocate John Walters, said the moratorium is not only unconstitutional but will have far-reaching effects on the administration of justice in the country.

Walters cautioned that many Namibians will be denied justice because cases will be postponed time after time.

“We already have such a huge backlog on the criminal court roll and now this will further distort the image of our administration of justice,” he said.

This is despite the Namibian Constitution’s provision for a fair trial and that all persons charged with an offence shall be entitled to be defended by a legal practitioner of their choice.

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