Chief Justice Peter Shivute says the envisioned office of the judiciary will seek to cement the principle of separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary as enshrined in the Namibian constitution.
Shivute revealed this in an interview with New Era on the sidelines of his visit to Zambezi Region on Tuesday.
He was in Katima Mulilo for a three-day familiarisation tour aimed at gauging successes and challenges of judicial officers and supporting staff ahead of the establishment of the planned office of the judiciary.
An act of parliament was passed recently that gives the mandate to the chief justice to establish the office, which will oversee the overall administration of the Namibian judiciary system. This function is currently performed by the Ministry of Justice.
According to Shivute, the establishment of the judiciary office is imperative to enhance the separation of powers as prescribed in the constitution – being the executive, legislative and judiciary.
The constitution provides for the establishment of the judiciary and its independence. It discourages any interference from members of Cabinet, the legislature or any other persons in the execution of judicial functions by judicial officers.
“The judiciary act gives the power to the chief justice, who in terms of the constitution, as amended, is the head of the judiciary, to oversee the running of the entire courts. The courts will no longer be run on an independent basis but will now be one administrative unit, which will determine its own budget. This is important and in principle with the separation of powers or independence of the judiciary,” said Shivute.
He further noted that the core functions currently performed by the ministry of justice will be transferred to the office of the judiciary including staff, adding that a permanent secretary that would head the administrative duties of the office is yet to be appointed.
“I would like to thank the minister of justice for facilitating the passing of the act at such a great speed after going through thorough consultations. Functions currently performed by the ministry of justice will now be falling under the office, including staff members serving the courts,” explained Shivute.
With a new mandate and the need for adequate judicial services, Shivute has established a committee headed by his deputy Petrus Damaseb, which will be responsible for assessing functions that will be transferred, with non-core functions likely to be returned to responsible ministries.
“The committee is responsible for identifying functions currently performed by the ministry of justice as well as personnel. The courts are currently performing other functions such as registration of birth and death, liquor act, collection of fees and taxes. These are functions of other ministries. Sometimes they take a lot of work. The task of the committee is to see whether these cannot be performed by other people responsible so that our officials can dedicate their energies to core functions,” stated the chief justice.
One major challenge faced by the judiciary in the region has been lack of building infrastructure. The buildings currently serving as courtrooms are dilapidated and lack the necessary equipment needed to match the latest trends in the delivery of justice. But Shivute was quick to point out that a magistrate’s court is currently under construction in the region and is expected to be completed by the end of 2016.
The building, to be replete with two state-of-the-art courtrooms and estimated to cost over N$40 million, is also expected to house a prison for both male and female offenders, an office for the police, a consulting room and several offices for staff.
Upon enquiry on whether the Zambezi Region too experiences a backlog of court cases as is the case countrywide partly due to the acute shortage of judicial officers, Shivute ironically noted that dissimilar to other regions cases in the region seem to be under control.
“In Zambezi there are slightly over 300 cases for the three courts of Katima, Ngoma and Omega. This is not very bad because in other regions the figures are much higher,” said Shivute.
He further lauded the work currently done by expatriates that man the courts in the country as magistrates and public prosecutors, noting that the ministry of justice, besides encouraging Unam to increase the intake of law students, has embarked on a programme aimed at training aspiring legal practitioners to address the deficit currently gripping the country.
“We are working with Unam to build capacity. We have a training programme where we train aspirant magistrates and judges that have graduated from Unam. They work as research assistants to learn how judges and magistrates do their work.
The law faculty has also been doing well, as there is an increase in the intake of law students. We thank expatriates; they have kept the system running and are doing a great job. We should not shy away from using their expertise,” said Shivute.