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Justice for the people …access, representation and transformation

2022-03-18  Maria Amakali

Justice for the people …access, representation and transformation

Namibia’s justice system has grown in leaps and bounds as  government spent millions of dollars in ensuring every citizen has access to justice. 

Over the past 32 years since Namibia attained its independence, the Ministry of Justice has spent nearly N$217.7 million on infrastructural development across the country. 

Justice minister Yvonne Dausab said it does not benefit anyone to have a justice or judicial system that is not accessible to the citizens either in terms of high legal costs or due to lack of infrastructure. 

Thus, over the years, reform measures were taken, which resulted in the establishment of 43 community courts.

“Community courts exist now in all areas of traditional communities with traditional authorities, which means people no longer have to travel long distances to magistrate’s courts for their cases to be heard or lodged. This improves access to justice for people in rural areas,” she explained.

 Dausab added that true justice can only be attained if the laws are a reflection of Namibia’s contemporary society.

In 2015, the Law Reform & Development Commission (LRDC) thus commenced phase one to review and repeal outdated, redundant and obsolete laws. 

These are laws that are no longer relevant, while some are unconstitutional relics of the apartheid system and are currently irrelevant in an independent Namibia.

“The LRDC consulted widely before finalising its repeal proposals, and it resulted in the Repeal of Obsolete Laws Act, 2018 (Act No. 21 of 2018), which repealed 38 principal statutes and their amendments,” noted Dausab.

The LRDC has since consulted widely on additional potentially obsolete laws identified by stakeholders, which resulted in the second repeal of the Obsolete Laws Bill, 2021. 

The bill has been finalised and certified by the Cabinet Committee on Legislation, and is due for tabling in the National Assembly.

Dausab indicated that the ministry, through the Directorate of Legal Aid, furthermore ensures that members are represented during court proceedings. 

“Over the years, there have been legal aid lawyers at every magistrate’s court throughout the country. Presently, there are 72 legal aid lawyers, including the newly-created Civil Unit,” she added.

During the last financial year, 10 000 applications for legal aid were received by the directorate, which means its presence is felt, the minister said.

She, however, acknowledged that the in-house lawyers are not enough to cater for all the cases. So, the directorate instructs private legal practitioners to complement the in-house lawyers, especially in civil matters, or cases being heard in the Supreme Court. 

Access to justice involves an independent justice system. Thus, the Office of the Judiciary was established in the public service by the Judiciary Act, 2015. This gave financial and administrative autonomy to the office of the judiciary – a major development in Namibian history. This development enforces the separation of powers as stipulated by the constitution.

Ensuring access to justice is thus attained, while significant reforms were initiated at the High Court, which included judge-controlled litigation (also known as judicial case management), mediation and electronic filing.

According to the Judiciary’s spokesperson, Selma Mwaetako, all three of these initiatives continue to be of great value in the early finalisation of cases, thereby reducing litigation costs.

Furthermore, in order to enlarge the pool from which judges could be appointed, the Office of the Judiciary commissioned a programme to train serving magistrates and legal researchers of the superior courts under the flagship aspirant judges training programme.

This initiative is bearing fruits as several trainees have been appointed to the bench of the High Court, either as acting or permanent judges.

Mwaetako said despite access to justice being a challenge due to the high cost of litigation, judicial reforms are underway to ensure legal costs are reduced. 

“The Legal Aid Directorate is an important institution, which ought to receive adequate funding and strengthened administration. But I also think that legal practitioners should do more pro bono work on behalf of the less fortunate in our society. This, after all, should be their social responsibility,” she noted, adding that relevant steps are being taken to address the shortage of judicial officers within the lower courts. 

The justice sector has indeed seen tremendous transformation since independence. 

“The legal fraternity now reflects the country’s demographics; so do judges and magistrates. More citizens have access to justice. There are magistrates’ courts virtually in every district in the country. Gender balance is evident in the composition of the judiciary, although there is certainly room for improvement at a certain level of the judiciary,” Mwaetako observed.

2022-03-18  Maria Amakali

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