OSHAKATI – A shortage of judicial officers at the Oshakati Magistrate’s Court is allegedly hindering the speedy finalisation of cases, creating a further backlog for the Judiciary.
Magistrates are reportedly stretched in terms of the number of cases they deal with in court. According to insiders, the situation is hampering the Judiciary’s efforts to reduce the backlog of cases by the end of September this year.
The Judiciary in September last year launched a pilot project to reduce the backlog.
Some officials claim that at least eight magistrates are needed for the Oshakati court to function optimally
Judiciary spokesperson Ockert Jansen said that currently there is only one vacant position for which recruitment is at an advanced stage.
Except for the regional court, the situation, according to judicial officers, is further aggravated when one of the magistrates at the lower courts is on leave as there are no relief magistrates to stand in.
At the moment, two of the magistrates are on leave. As a result cases are again piling up as they end up being postponed.
A suggestion has been that magistrates on leave be relieved by other magistrates, but that was only done once last year.
Apart from the duties at Oshakati, one of the four magistrates from the lower court is also assigned to the Omungwelume periodical court, leaving the court at Oshakati unoccupied every now and then.
“This court needs at least eight magistrates to function effectively. With the current situation, a backlog is created daily. Nothing has been done over the years and the court is told to work with what it has,” related a source at the court.
“Every year it has become a likelihood for appointment prospects, but there is no more hope that magistrates will be appointed anytime soon.”
The accused and witnesses are both affected by the shortage of magistrates at Oshakati because as a result of the postponements, the accused persons are denied their right to a speedy trial, while the government spends a lot on witness fees.
Oshakati had, by June last year, a backlog of 3 455 criminal cases in the lower and regional courts but with the introduction of the backlog pilot project the courts were able to reduce the backlog by 18% between October and December last year.
On the issue of staff complement, Chief Justice Peter Shivute during the legal year opening said there is an approved personnel complement of 930 of which only 718 positions were filled at the moment. “We still need to fill 212 vacancies if we are to operate optimally. Sixteen High Court judges and 12 magistrate positions are vacant but cannot be filled due to the shortage of funds,” Shivute said.