Chief Justice Peter Shivute said while the Judiciary is trying its utmost best, under very trying circumstances to deliver speedy justice, factors out of its control adversely affects its ability to do so.
According to the chief justice, the Judiciary, like all other institutions of the State, has been affected by the slow pace of economic recovery and the resultant cuts in expenditure that continue to adversely impact on service delivery.
He made this remarks at the launch of the 2020 legal year yesterday at the Supreme Court.
Shivute further said the public expect a judicial system that delivers speedy, but fair justice and as a Judiciary, they strive to ensure fair justice, but its timeliness is not entirely under their control because it is a function of resourcing which, ultimately, is within the province of those that allocate resources – the Executive and the Legislature.
This, he said, often leads to the public laying the delays in finalising cases squarely at the door of the Judiciary.
He further said that the major reason for cases not being able to be finalised is the lack of funds to pay witness fees.
Another factor, he said, is the speed with which legal aid is granted to an accused.
“There is hardly a criminal trial involving a serious offence where an accused person does not seek publicly funded legal representation as they are entitled to do,” he said.
Another factor delaying criminal cases, the judge said, is the long waiting period for the assessment of accused persons referred by the courts for mental observation.
Furthermore, Shivute lamented, the delay in finalisation of investigations by the police who themselves are affected by budget cuts has ripple effects.
“With incomplete dockets, the prosecutor general cannot decide whether to prosecute or not and the courts are perennially asked for postponements for further investigations.”
He, however, singled out the Supreme Court as the court which performed the best over the past year, but mentioned that it is due to the fact that it is least affected because for most part it does not hear oral evidence and disposes off the cases that comes before it on the written record.
According to the judge, the Supreme Court dealt with six out of seven civil petitions, seven criminal petitions, 49 appeals out of 79 civil appeals and eight criminal appeals with the rest to be heard during March and April.
The High Court in both the main and northern divisions dealt with 7 892 civil cases during the year under review and 4 595 were finalized. A further 921 civil cases were referred to court-accredited mediation resulting in 591 out-of-court settlements, the judge stated.
For both divisions, the judges in the criminal stream presided over 160 criminal trials of which 42 were completed with 73 cases remaining on the roll as partly heard matters, he said.
Of these, the judge said, 121 involve violence against women and children, 41 involve either fraud or theft and nine human trafficking.
In the regional courts across the country, 2 570 criminal cases were heard by regional court magistrates, of which 523 were finalized.
District court magistrates presided over 46 460 criminal cases during January 2019 to January 2020 and 24 256 were finalised during the year under review.
He said this is a remarkable improvement compared to the same period last year.
The reasons for the under-performance of the courts, the judge said, is shortage of courtrooms, shortage of magistrates, double-bookings by defence lawyers, which leads to unnecessary postponements.
He further said that magistrates are required to work outside the scope of their judicial duties such as solemnising marriages and dealing with applications for liquor licences amongst other things.