Scepticism over proposed GBV courts

15 October 2020 | Justice



Experts are sceptic about government's proposed gender-based-violence (GBV) court system, saying it may not be cost-effective and may be counter-productive.

Government on Tuesday announced a string of interventions to combat increasing incidents of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), which includes the deployment of 24/7 armed patrols as well as the establishment of SGBV offences courts.

However, Dianne Hubbard from the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) is not convinced this will be cost-effective.

“I would prefer to see GBV cases fast-tracked and sensitively treated in all courts in Namibia. For instance, the victim-friendly facilities already available are reportedly not well-utilised. And GBV cases are not being fast-tracked - not even those involving child victims. Can specialised courts work if we are not even using the tools we already have?” she asked. Another concern, Hubbard added, is that specialised courts might be set up only in major urban centres, as is the case with children's courts.

“GBV victims in all regions should have access to speedy, expert, sensitive handling of their cases.”

University of Namibia lecturer Immaculate Mogotsi said priority should be given to existing structures.

“Sometimes you hear some of these children's courts are not in working order. Or the victims cannot attend the court hearings because of the distance from where they live. We may be bogged down by many systems, while we should just streamline the systems we have in place already,” she said.

Police patrols

Mogotsi is worried that the proposed police patrols may be problematic and that police officers may harm civilians, as was the case with crime prevention unit, Operation Kalahari Desert.

Hubbard said these patrols should focus on SGBV victims with protection orders. According to her, that would make the protection orders more meaningful.

“Women who have suffered abuse should not be further disempowered. They should rather be supported and counselled and protected so that they feel comfortable to proceed with a criminal case. I agree with the government response on this,” she said.

Long overdue

Hubbard added that the need to capacitate forensic investigators and experts has been pointed out for a long time.

“One idea which has been discussed for a long time without moving forward is to train a cadre of forensic nurses to collect GBV evidence as other countries have successfully done,” she said.

According to Hubbard, another challenge is that it is not always possible to reach the person who is supposed to be available after hours at the GBV unit.

She argued that the operation of these units needs to be assessed to see whether they are really giving the specialised, skilled and sensitive response envisaged.

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