Courtroom delays erode public confidence

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By Roland Routh

GROSS BARMEN – Various stakeholders involved in the country’s criminal justice system met for a one-day workshop at the newly renovated Gross Barmen Resort outside Okahandja to brainstorm on ways to effectively decongest the present backlog of cases in courts.
Last Thursday’s workshop was attended by major stakeholders – including the Minister of Justice Utoni Nujoma, his deputy Tommy Nambahu, the chairperson of the Magistrates Commission, Judge Elton Hoff, and permanent secretaries. It was convened by the Magistrates Commission.

Also in attendance were Inspector General of the Namibian Police Force, Sebastian Ndeitunga; Prosecutor General Martha Imalwa; Chief of the Windhoek City Police, Abraham Kanime; and Director General of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), Paulus Noa.
In his opening address, Judge Hoff highlighted the importance of efforts to reduce the backlog of criminal cases in the magistrates’ courts across the country.

He expressed his sincere gratitude to the participants, who took time off from their busy schedules to attend the workshop “on a topic that is of communal concern”.

He said he was optimistic the “indaba” would create a solid foundation on which to build future deliberations not only on the current topic, but also on other pressing issues of mutual concern.

Judge Hoff anticipated the workshop would reach “a definite working solution or solutions” on how to collectively eliminate the backlog of criminal cases in the lower courts and “in addition on how to reach set goals within specific timeframes”.

Judge Hoff went on to say that it is a well-known fact that the lower courts form an integral part of the judiciary, but that courts cannot function in isolation.

He noted that the criminal process starts with the arrest and detention of the suspect by the police. The suspect is eligible to apply for legal aid if a Namibian citizen.

This process is followed by a trial and if found guilty possible detention in a correctional facility.

“One of the aims of punishment is rehabilitation,” the judge said, adding that the prison service plays an important role to ensure the offender is rehabilitated to avoid becoming a repeat offender.

The judge said since the majority of the public deals with the lower courts, it is important to have an efficient service delivery system to ensure positive public opinion.

He mentioned that some articles published in the print media give the impression that members of the public view the administration of justice in a negative way and this is mainly due to the long time it takes to finalise cases.

Judge Hoff told delegates that in his capacity as a review judge in criminal proceedings pertaining to the lower courts, he became quite alarmed and “perplexed” to notice how many cases are postponed repeatedly for further investigation and in order to obtain legal aid. He said in most cases where a case is postponed for plea and trial the accused has not even pleaded, but one would expect that a matter would only be postponed for trial once an accused pleaded not guilty.

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