Judiciary Appeals for Resources

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK – Lack of adequate resources, numerous unfilled vacancies and a non-functional library are some of the major constraints hampering the normal operations of the High Court, making the situation desperate at times. Officially opening the High Court Legal Year for 2006, Judge President Petrus Damaseb expressed concern over how the lack of adequate resources is affecting day-to-day operations of the court. Current trends are that High Court staff members are overworked, while many positions remain vacant, putting a further strain on the existing staff. “Interpreters are doing the work of clerks (and) that is a source of grave concern,” said Damaseb while addressing a fully packed B-Court of judges and legal practitioners yesterday. In addition, with a non-functional library without a librarian, judges are unable to access an electronic research database, a situation that the Judge President says has “become truly desperate”. Untidiness of the court building and its surroundings was also mentioned. This means that the current six judges who are expected to attend to the court’s roll this year will have to struggle to deal with the increasing number of cases with the current state of affairs. In light of this, Damaseb said, resources are vital for the effective functioning of the legal system in order to modernise operations and create a conducive working environment. “I am aware of the frustrations being experienced by the Ministry of Justice in being unable to get the funds from Parliament to properly fund the courts. “One can only hope that the need to properly fund the courts will be understood and acted upon by all involved, for if the Superior Court system breaks down, anarchy is inevitable,” stressed the Judge President. Over the course of last year, the High Court experienced a busy period where motion court cases topped the list with 3 830, followed by summons issued by court staff at 3 261, default judgements granted by the Registrar standing at 2 076, and criminal reviews for January 03 to December 31 last year stood at 1 949. The lowest numbers of legal cases through the previous year were those of the district and labour court, standing at 45 and 36 cases respectively. However, Judge President Damaseb said that as a result of the mounting court cases, five more Acting Judges had to be appointed last year in order to assist with the ever-increasing workload. This year, it is anticipated that the number of cases at the High Court will increase, hence the greater need for more permanent judges to enable efficient administration of justice. “The inevitable increase in the workload of the court will affect its effectiveness unless matched by the necessary resources – human and material,” said Damaseb. As from now to April 31, 2006, 281 civil trials, 35 opposed motions, 16 district labour court appeals and seven labour court cases are already set down, while 82 criminal appeals are already laid out up until July 03, 2006. Therefore, this year is set to deal with more civil and criminal appeals. Sharing the Judge President’s concerns, some legal practitioners like Dirk Conradie and Gerson Hinda said that judges are very hard working despite the lack of resources. “If law books that are supposed to come from the library are not updated, how are judges going to carry out their work? It’s a shame that judges have to work under these circumstances and could create a bad reputation for the judiciary,” said Conradie. In the same vein, lawyers and judges alike appealed to the relevant authorities to assist the judiciary in funding them. “This is a good beacon and a great start to the New Year,” added Advocate Gerson Hinda, briefly agreeing that justice must be seen to be done at all times. At the same occasion, the Judge President invited the legal professionals to make proposals for the reform of the Rules of Court in order to speed up litigation and reduce anxiety and stress on the part of the public. “I sympathise with the frustration of litigants when there is inordinate delay in delivery of reserved judgements. We are working hard on this issue because it erodes the dignity, responsibility and accountability of the senior judiciary, which must lead by example,” added Damaseb. However, there was a lot of improvement last year in how speedily judges delivered judgement on cases in general. In addition, it was announced that the Registrar of the High Court Jan Joubert and his assistant Edwin Kastoor had tendered their resignations from the High Court this year.