CHIEF justice Peter Shivute has expressed concern over the shortage of magistrates in the country, as this delays the delivery of justice to the people.
Shivute said this in a speech read on his behalf by deputy chief justice Petrus Damaseb at the opening of a five-day annual magistrates' conference in Windhoek on Monday.
According to the spokesperson of the Office of the Judiciary, Ockert Jansen, 90 of the 104 positions for magistrates available in the country have been filled, leaving a shortfall of 14.
Shivute said he had been made aware of the number of unfilled magistrates' positions in various district courts.
"The inadequacy in staffing has greatly affected access to justice, as the few judicial officers can only handle a certain percentage of the workload in the courts and cannot sufficiently meet the justice needs of the majority, especially those in remote areas," he said.
Shivute said he expected the vacant positions countrywide to be filled as soon as possible.
"I encourage you to continue taking the necessary steps and actions in delivering the much-needed services to the people."
Justice minister Yvonne Dausab said it was necessary to have more court structures to ensure that everyone across the country has access to justice.
"As a ministry we are looking into erecting more court structures to ensure that everyone has easy access to courts," she said.
Shivute also said the Office of the Judiciary's first initiative was the extension of jurisdiction over divorce cases to regional courts.
"As we are all well aware, at the moment the High Court has exclusive jurisdiction to deal with divorce matters and because of this, anyone who intends to institute divorce proceedings, irrespective of their location, can only do so at either the High Court main division in Windhoek or at the northern division at Oshakati," he said.
Shivute added that once the initiative is implemented it will relieve the High Court of much of its workload and reduce costs for those who have to travel for court proceedings to occur.
He said as part of fulfilling the concept of access to justice, the Office of the Judiciary is working with the Ministry of Justice to increase the monetary jurisdiction of district and regional courts.
"With increased monetary jurisdiction of the district and regional courts, the pressure exerted on the High Court would also be diminished," he said.
"Another initiative is the introduction of small claims courts into our judicial system, and once implemented it will promote greater access to justice for the community at minimal costs," he said.