Thirty-one years ago, the Namibian constitution made right of way for an independent judiciary system as an essential condition to promote democracy and human rights.
Despite many accomplishments achieved by the Namibian justice system over the years, there are some areas and practices which pose a challenge to access to justice.
Ombudsman John Walters said despite the constitution clearly stating that every individual has a right to a speedy trial, such a concept is vague and does not state how long is too long in a system where justice is supposed to be swift and deliberate.
“It is poor consolation for an accused person to know that his or her right to a trial within a reasonable time is guaranteed in our constitution, but has to wait years to get a hearing. Now, what about the poor victim of crime whose rights are nowhere guaranteed? They look up to our courts for protection of their rights, interest and respect for their dignity,” said Walters.
Walters also indicated that litigation for criminal and civil matters within our courts is awfully expensive. This, he said, can be an obstacle to access justice which would make people to assume that “only rich people can afford true justice”.
“We need small claims courts and a bigger budget for legal aid to provide more people access to justice,” noted Walters.
On the apartheid laws that need to be repealed, Walters said now there are no laws that currently deny a person access to justice within the justice system.
Miriam Shishiiveni, a resident of Windhoek’s Okahandja Park informal settlement, said she has no idea where to go if she needs legal advice, alluding that justice is only served to those who have money and are educated.
“I think those things are for people that have money. I do not have time to think about my rights when I am hungry,” said Shishiiveni.
However, Indongo Matheuws, a Windhoek resident said Namibian justice has come a long way since independence.
He said despite many challenges, the justice ministry has tried to educate people on their rights and the justice system.
“All cannot be achieved overnight. Now more than ever we are seeing that our justice system is doing something. Lately, you can even see that more people are approaching the courts when they are aggrieved. It is an interesting time to be alive,” explained Matheuws.
In February, Chief Justice Peter Shivute during the opening of the 2021 legal year said the judiciary is experiencing financial constraints which has increasingly made it challenging for the judiciary to deliver speedy justice to the public.
Meanwhile in 2020, Cabinet approved, in principle, the Small Claims Court Bill and referred it to the Cabinet Committee on Legislation before it is tabled in the National Assembly.