Overstretched courts cause backlog

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WINDHOEK – An insufficient number of courtrooms across the country is the cause of the backlog of cases in Namibian courts.

Presently there are 34 district courts, 44 periodical courts and 8 regional courts across the country and there are only 113 prosecutors and 90 magistrates for all the courts in the country. A combined 46 229 cases are currently on the court rolls of the magistrate’s (44 844), regional (1319) and high courts (66). “The backlog of cases is made worse by the fact that there are insufficient courtrooms and offices at existing courts, with most offices only equipped with one courtroom,” explained the Minister of Justice Utoni Nujoma, while presenting the ministry’s budget in the National Assembly last week Friday. Nujoma noted that the backlog in the finalization of cases in courts is a serious concern since it undermines the constitutional imperative of delivering justice timeously.

“The ministry intends to address this shortcoming through its capital projects [budget],” the justice minister said. In order to remedy the situation, Nujoma said the Prosecutor-General, Martha Imalwa, is working on a draft bill to amend the Criminal Procedure Act in order to introduce plea bargaining in the local criminal adjudication process with a view to addressing the backlog of cases “especially in serious and complex” cases. Nujoma said the amended Act would also include the introduction of a procedure that will lead witnesses’ evidence through video link, especially for foreign witnesses. He also made public that plans are underway to facilitate collaboration with the magistracy, police and the directorate of legal aid to introduce mobile courts at magistrates’ courts that are most affected by the backlog.

Another way of expediting the delivery of judgments in courts, said Nujoma is for the superior courts to introduce an alternative dispute resolution system in high court litigation, as well as the addition of a second criminal courtroom at the Windhoek Central Prison during the 2014/15 financial year. “Court induced Alternative Dispute Resolution will reduce litigation costs and the time of civil litigation in the High Court,” the justice minister said. Namibia lags behind in terms of the number of available state advocates handling prosecution and appeals in the Supreme Court. Nujoma revealed that prosecutions and appeals in the country’s highest court are handled by only 18 state advocates, but international standards stipulate that such work must be done by 45 state advocates. Nujoma also announced that the Prosecutor-General received 549 dockets during the 2013/14 financial year for decisions.

“Decisions were made in respect of 381 dockets, while 168 dockets were referred back to the investigating agencies or further investigations,” he said. Nujoma further pointed out that out of the 381 dockets decided, 95 involved corrupt activities, of which 75 involved staff members in the Public Service Commission (PSC).

 

By Mathias Haufiku

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