Community courts are the immediate solution to the exorbitant legal costs of adjudicating matters in the mainstream Namibian courts.
This is the sentiment of the Minister of Justice, Dr Albert Kawana, who addressed a consultative meeting with the four traditional authorities in the Zambezi Region on Thursday regarding the Community Courts Act promulgated in 2003.
The new law saw the transformation of traditional courts into community courts that form part of the Namibian legal system.
Kawana – whose main mission was to assess the extent to which the Community Courts Act has impacted traditional authorities in the administration of customary and common law – noted that community courts serve the majority of Namibians without necessarily looking at their financial status.
“It is given in our legal sector that community courts provide access to justice to the majority of our people. You don’t have to be rich to register your case with a community court. You don’t need to hire a legal practitioner. Given the high cost of legal services in our country the majority of our citizens will be able to access these courts at minimal cost,” he said.
Having initiated the process of integrating traditional courts into the mainstream legal system as far back as 2003 – when he similarly served as Justice Minister – Kawana stated that apart from assessing the effectiveness of community courts he would welcome any proposals that might warrant amendments to the Act.
“The purpose of the consultation is to assess the effectiveness of our community courts and, if need be, to introduce amendments to address the challenges if any,” the justice minister said.
Ngambela of the Masubia Traditional Authority Albius Kamwi bemoaned the lack of funding for community courts and lamented what he said was the small allowance the chief receives. According to Kamwi, the allowance is impractical in light of the rising cost of living.
“We have a few challenges. The community court does not have a standing budget to operate from. We only get a sitting allowance of N$200, which is too little. Our chiefs are also given an allowance of N$1000 per month. How do you survive on this when life has become so expensive?” Kamwi asked.
He complained of a lack of empowerment for traditional authorities in dispensing justice, adding that many accused persons willingly ignore summons. “Summons are either disrespected or ignored. We have the law, but it does not bite as traditional authorities are not empowered,” Kamwi said.
Similar sentiments were expressed by the Natamoyo (senior adviser to the chief) of the Mayeyi Traditional Authority, Chrispin Makando, who noted that traditional guards (kapaso) do not have the necessary facilities to arrest accused persons, nor do they have the skills to effect an arrest.
“Our security officers do not have the facilities to arrest criminals. Maybe that is why community members ignore community courts and rather register their cases with the police. They (traditional guards) also need training on how to conduct some of these activities,” Makando suggested.
Community courts responsible for administering customary and common law, in line with the Namibian Constitution, were created by the Community Courts Act 10 of 2003. Before its enactment, traditional courts operated informally without recognition as part of the Namibian legal system.
There are 33 recognised traditional authorities in Namibia that have community courts.