15 February 2013

Namibia: Dearth of Magistrates Delays Justice

Keetmanshoop — A serious shortage of magistrates in the Karas regional courts has resulted in a colossal backlog of criminal and civil cases and overcrowded cells in the region, New Era has learned.

Scores of people arrested in the various towns and other localities of the Karas Region are unlikely to leave police holding cells any time soon due to the lack of resident magistrates to deal with cases on time. Control Magistrate at the Karas regional magistrate's office in Keetmanshoop, Piet Bekker, has confirmed the shortage of magistrates in the region, which he attributes to the lack of qualified personnel to fill existing vacancies.

"All the regions have the same problem. It is not strange. To fill the vacancy of a magistrate is not like recruiting an ordinary worker," said Bekker. The existing vacancies have not been filled since the departure of two Zimbabwean expatriates, the last of the 12 expatriates from that country recruited to mitigate the shortage in the country.

The last two magistrates' contracts ended last year. The Karas Region now has five vacant magistrate's positions including two positions which Bekker's office advertised last year. Fortunately, the recruitment process has been finalised and the two new appointed magistrates would commence work starting in March.

"Candidates have already been interviewed by the Judicial Service Commission and suitable persons have been selected," he said.

"Law enforcement agencies are also murmuring about the slow pace in dispensing justice in the region, with the police holding cells in Karasburg, Bethanie and Lüderitz  bursting at their seams with trial-awaiting prisoners.

"As law enforcers we are worried about this situation. Members of the community are pointing fingers at us the police and express their discontent over the procedures of the court and the lack of magistrates in settling court cases," said one police officer in the region.

A senior police officer, speaking to New Era on condition of anonymity, confirmed that police holding cells in most of the towns and other localities in the region are overcrowded with trial-awaiting prisoners.

Bekker nevertheless said the recruitment drive for magistrates would ease the burden, as a number of towns, villages and settlements would get dedicated magistrates for the first time and include places such as Aranos, Karasburg, Lüderitz , Maltahohë and Bethanie.

Currently the cases in these places are heard by relief magistrates from Windhoek, while at times the regional magistrate's office in Keetmanshoop or assigned judicial officers, step in as relief magistrates.

"We are working very hard with the available staff. Considering our limited numbers, I can safely say we are on top of the situation. Our efficiency would improve if the vacant posts are filled," a confident Bekker told New Era.

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