RUNDU - The Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) is currently analysing old and new court cases relating to wildlife crimes with the intention to make recommendations to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to the Office of the Judiciary and to the Prosecutor-General’s Office to boost efficiency.
This project also seeks to find out why wildlife crime cases are slow to be prosecuted.
“I’m with the LAC at the wildlife department, and for the next year I’m going to focus on criminal court procedures in terms of dealing with wildlife crimes,” said Hans-Christian Mahnke from the LAC, who has been heading the project since August.
The project started in the Windhoek courts in September and will put under scrutiny and analyse all the court records of the last five years on wildlife crimes that were brought before the courts.
“This was just to familiarise ourselves with the system and what can we expect and so on, this are old records and at the same time, we are doing court monitoring while cases are on going,” he said.
By mid 2017, the fines have been heavily increased regarding wildlife crime in Namibia. “So what we want to do with that is we want to see how are the court cases, how are the procedures, how can we improve them in terms of bail, we sometime see that bail is given easily, which is laughable but now since the increase, the state with its legislation has stated that this is serious like global warming, so it’s not a little shop lifting kind of crime anymore,” he noted.
“You don’t have the right to bail, murder and wildlife crime is excluded, it’s at the discretion of the magistrate of court to give bail, often the accused may think they have the right to bail but somehow this opinion has embedded itself within the society, so we are looking at the bail, the length of the trial, because some of them are really long and affecting the economy of the court,” he added.
The LAC project wants to shorten the process of lengthy court cases of wildlife crimes because this depletes government’s financial resources which can be invested in infrastructure.
He noted the ‘unnecessarily delay’ basically depletes the resources of the court as many accused are being held in holding cells in the country and they need to be transported to attend court sessions.
“The court records countrywide are not centralised, so when you are in Windhoek you don’t know what is happening at courts in other districts, so with that we are setting up a data base of the cases of the last five years and of course from anywhere in Namibia where the wildlife crime is happening, so in a way we are centralising the information in order to have statistics and of course to make policies,” Mahnke revealed.
“So our observations in terms of where to improve and where are the challenges will go to MET, to the Office of the Judiciary and to the Prosecutor-General’s office, based on our analysis, they can then change procedures and whatever they need in their own processes, curtail the wasting of resources and time and you know that courts have a lot of backlogs, basically they are flooded with cases they need to actually clean the back logs as it is both in the interest of the court and the accused,” he said.
The project will run over the next 18 months.
“We hear sometimes the docket is not there or legal aid hasn’t been granted or the processes have not been finalised or the accused absconds and then you need to put out a warrant of arrest and then you have to find the guy and bring him to court and so on. These things we have identified but of course we want to have a holistic view in terms if it’s all the same in all matters or not, we have assumptions but we need to see if it’s actually true and when we are finished, then we can forward our recommendations to the ministry of environment , Judiciary and the Prosecutor-General,” he said.
The workshops are being funded by USAID, while the data gathering is funded by GIZ.