Justice minister Yvonne Dausab says although the judiciary did everything in its power to mitigate the most adverse effects that the Covid-19 pandemic has on the country, some risks were simply unavoidable.
Dausab, who was speaking in the National Assembly recently, said seeing that the lockdown regulation restrictions were tough on all institutions, accused persons in custody and others on bail or warning could not travel and their cases had to be postponed for a period of close to two months.
“This additional backlog that has been created by the force of circumstances has detrimentally affected the efforts by the lower courts to improve the overall case finalisation rate, thus compromising the principle that justice is not delayed and accused persons are not unduly prejudiced,” she noted.
Even though the courts did not shut its doors during the nationwide lockdown, she stressed the current social and economic climate has hit the courts like a thunderbolt.
In terms of Article 26 read with the provisions of Articles 24 and 25 of the Constitution, the courts play a pivotal role during a state of emergency. “It is worth mentioning that although limited services were on offer by the courts and most trials and scheduled appearances had to be postponed, the judiciary ensured that it complies with the national and international provisions in legal instruments affecting human rights and the specific right to liberty of accused persons in custody and or detention,” Dausab maintained.
According to her, this speaks to the 48-hour rule, where accused persons still appeared before a magistrate on first appearance and those that were remanded in custody as well as accused on bail or warning, exercised their right to apply for formal bail and such bail hearings proceeded.
Dausab also touched on the independence of the judiciary as an important value underpinning democracy. She said it is important to promote the independence and integrity of the judiciary and in that way strengthen public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary and the administration of justice.
As the ultimate guarantor of justice for all, she underscored the judiciary must enjoy public confidence if it is to be successful in carrying out its duties.
The Supreme Court has emphasised that for decisions of the judiciary to be respected and obeyed, the judiciary must be impartial. “To be impartial, the judiciary must be independent. To be independent, the judiciary must be free from interference, influence, or pressure. For that, it must be separate and free from the undue influence of the other organs of the State or any other body or interest, however powerful,” the minister remarked.
Moreover, she said a fearless, impartial, and independent judiciary is essential for good governance and economic development, as the fair and prompt interpretation and enforcement of economic rights will help create a climate that is conducive to much-needed investment and economic growth.
She alluded this statement holds not only to the investors but also to citizenry who rely on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary to uphold and protect their rights and freedoms.