8 February 2018

Namibia: Heavy Workload Burdens Defence Lawyers

Windhoek — During his annual legal year opening speech, Chief Justice Peter Shivute yesterday said the overbooking of defence lawyers for trials in the High Court is a worrying trend as fewer new criminal cases are now being finalised compared to previous years.

According to him this has caused the Judge President to initiate consultations with the Legal Aid Directorate and the Law Society of Namibia to address this problem for which a lasting solution must be found in the interest of the administration of justice.

He however praised the new reforms at the civil stream, judicial case management, mediation and e-justice as having contributed greatly to the early finalisation of cases and reducing litigation costs.

The Chief Justice announced the success rate of matters referred to mediation improved from 60.4 percent in 2016 to 68 percent in 2017.

With regard to the Supreme Court, he said repeated admonitions in judgments handed down had the desired effect and less and less time is wasted on applications for condonation for non-compliance with the rules of the court.

Chief Justice Shivute however said he is pleased the admonitions handed down through judgments had the effect that judges are able to deal with the merits of the appeals without being side-tracked by procedural skirmishes and added that it will only be to the benefit of the administration of justice.

He took the opportunity to remind all legal practitioners that the new rules of the Supreme Court came into force on November 15 last year and that legal practitioners intending to practice in the Supreme Court must make an effort to study the rules to avoid unnecessary applications for condonation and reinstatement of appeals.

He said that the Supreme Court's performance continues to be impressive with a full complement of five permanent judges and three ad hoc or acting judges of appeal. He attributed that to the fact that more cases are being set down each year and the waiting time for allocation of hearing dates has been shortened remarkably. In 2017, the Chief Justice said, the Supreme Court registered a total of 93 cases (including appeals, reviews and petitions) of which 46 were enrolled for hearing and 45 judgments delivered.

Twenty of the appeals lapsed while 10 out of 16 petitions were finalised, Chief Justice Shivute said.

He also announced that the magistrates courts registered a total of 38,435 cases during the period January to September 2017 and finalised a paltry 19,140 which amounts to 50 percent of cases completed.

"This is of great concern to me because at this rate we are building up a backlog of cases in the magistrates courts," the judge said and continued: "The inadequacy of courtrooms, the malfunctioning and not enough recording equipment, and the shortage of both judicial officers and court support staff have been cited by the magistracy as the reasons for the less than satisfactory statistics that I have just described".

He went on to say the judiciary is looking into ways to arrest this trend, and as far as infrastructure is concerned, they have begun to acquire, and more generally deploy ready-to-use structures to serve as courtrooms. This he said is done in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice which is responsible for capital projects.

The Chief Justice concluded by saying that the Judiciary of Namibia is committed to playing its part in nation building by strengthening the rule of law through the delivery of quality and timely justice.

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