Courts Must Avoid ‘Parrot’ Judgements

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK Judgements handed down by the courts in Namibia must measure up to the public perception of fairness and pass the test in the court of public opinion, says Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana. Iivula-Ithana made the appeal when she addressed judges of the High Court and a large group of legal practitioners at the ceremonial opening of this year’s High Court session yesterday. The occasion was presided over by Judge-President of the High Court Justice Petrus Damaseb who was flanked by seven other High Court judges. Apart from Minister Iivula-Ithana, Prosecutor-General Martha Imalwa, Ombudsman John Walters and the heads of the main legal societies were among other senior legal officials present. The minister said that since independence, government had made tremendous efforts to develop the judiciary. “We have consistently made appointments to the bench on merit to reflect diversity without compromising the imperative objective to ensure that the composition of the bench truly reflects a Namibian identity and our firmly African roots,” she said. She was convinced that only such appointments would guarantee that court decisions reflect a Namibian identity and fulfilled Namibian values and aspirations as enshrined in the constitution. Such appointments would promote the advancement of the majority of the country’s people. This especially applied to those who were previously disadvantaged and victimised by the segregationist laws of apartheid, and to whom justice was largely denied. “The judiciary is a necessary arm of government. It is not part of the opposition and should not be seen to be so lest it loses credibility and lest anarchy prevails,” she reminded judges. Iivula-Ithana suggested that judges needed to be alive to the environment in which they make judicial decisions, as well as the impact of those decisions. There is an expectation, she said, that courts sitting in Namibia take cognisance of the realities of the country’s past when dealing with issues before them. This requires them to be pragmatic in their approach and while drawing lessons from the experience of others not adopt their decisions in “parrot fashion”. She particularly emphasised the need for the courts to take into account Article 23 of the Namibian constitution, which makes provision for affirmative action. Affirmative action as set out in Article 23 is an integral part of the government’s cherished goals of enhancing freedom, democracy, good governance and peace. Here again Iivula-Ithana reiterated that the courts must avoid an armchair approach to issues that concern the ordinary man in the street, and avoid a parrot-fashion observance of foreign decisions. Above all, judges need to always remember to deliver judgements that fall within the Namibian historical and environmental context to avoid the judgements becoming academic and of no practical relevance. “Ultimately, the jurisprudence that must develop must evince the total independence of our courts, deepen and strengthen our democracy while serving the needs of all our people and not just an elitist class,” she urged.