A substantial number of legal practitioners have advised their clients not to approach the courts due to the high legal costs, despite having trust in the country’s judicial system.
This is according to a research study conducted by Eben de Klerk of ISG Risk Services and Christie Keulder of Survey Warehouse on admitted legal practitioners, who are also members of the Law Society of Namibia (LSN).
Two-hundred and twenty-one admitted legal practitioners participated in the study. Currently, there are 1 119 admitted legal practitioners registered with LSN – which includes advocates and judges from the High and Supreme Courts.
According to the data, legal practitioners themselves are increasingly concerned about legal costs being too high.
They have indicated that it is a major factor “that is not only limiting access to justice and ultimately upholding the principles of the rule of law, but also in the public’s sense of distrust in the judiciary, whether justified or not”.
According to the tariffs available at the High Court, legal practitioners are allowed to charge between N$800 and N$1 800 per hour for oral or written advice, advice on evidence, preparation for trial or application or any other opposed matter, drafting or settling of heads of argument, and judicial case management.
However, for an appearance in court, they are allowed to charge between N$8 000 to N$18 000 per day.
The court also charges for affixing revenue stamps on the face of applicable documents, ranging from N$5 to N$150 per page.
The fees are affected by the complexity of the matter, the nature of the subject matter in dispute, the amount in dispute, and the seniority of the legal practitioner employed. Considering how long cases could drag on in Namibian courts, clients could end up paying astronomical amounts. Although the lawyers have trust in the justice system, they believe that a majority of the judges are appointed for reasons other than merit.
Almost half - 46% of respondents - did not believe that judges are “appointed on merit, and 63% are of the opinion that judges are appointed for reasons other than merit,” reads the report.
The fraternity, however, stands divided on whether Supreme and High Court judges are influenced by their loyalty to Government. But, advocates are more likely to agree that judges of the Supreme Court are influenced by loyalty to Government.
More than two in five disagree that judges are influenced by loyalty to the current ruling party, Swapo.
On the influence that the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) may have on judges, more respondents were of the opinion that Supreme Court judges are more likely to be influenced than judges of the High Court.
Senior legal practitioners, by number of years they have been admitted, were less likely to agree that the powers of the JSC influence Supreme Court judges.
“There is a strong perception among legal practitioners, as is the case among the general public, that corruption in general is increasing. The majority of legal practitioners are of the opinion that corruption in the judiciary has not increased or decreased over the past years,” the report noted.