NOTAmibia’s justice system has grown by leaps and bounds as the government has spent millions of dollars to ensure that every citizen has access to justice.
In the past 32 years since Namibia gained independence, the Ministry of Justice has spent almost N$217.7 million on infrastructure development across the country.
Justice Minister Yvonne Dausab said it does not benefit anyone to have justice or a judicial system that is not accessible to citizens, either in terms of high court costs or because of the lack of infrastructure.
Thus, over the years, reform measures have been taken, which have resulted in the establishment of 43 community courts.
“Community courts now exist in all traditional community areas with traditional authorities, which means that people no longer have to travel long distances to the magistrates’ courts to have their cases heard or filed. This improves access to justice for people in rural areas,” she explained.
Dausab added that true justice can only be achieved if the laws reflect contemporary Namibian society.
In 2015, the Law Reform & Development Commission (LRDC) therefore began the first phase to review and repeal obsolete, redundant and obsolete laws.
These are laws that are no longer relevant, while some are unconstitutional relics of the apartheid system and are currently no longer relevant in an independent Namibia.
“The LRDC consulted widely before finalizing its repeal proposals, and this resulted in the Obsolete Laws Repeal Act 2018 (Act No. 21 of 2018), which repealed 38 principal laws and their amendments” , Dausab noted.
The LRDC has since conducted extensive consultations on other potentially obsolete laws identified by stakeholders, resulting in the second Repeal of Obsolete Laws Bill, 2021.
The bill has been finalized and certified by the Cabinet Committee on Legislation and is to be tabled in the National Assembly.
Dausab said the ministry, through the Directorate of Legal Aid, further ensures that members are represented in court proceedings.
“Over the years, there have been legal aid lawyers in every magistrate’s court across the country. Currently, there are 72 legal aid lawyers, including the newly created civil unit,” she added.
Over the last financial year, 10,000 requests for legal aid were received by the management, which means that its presence is felt, the minister said.
However, she acknowledged that in-house lawyers were not enough to handle all cases. Thus, the management appoints private lawyers to supplement the company lawyers, particularly in civil matters, or in cases brought before the Supreme Court.
Access to justice implies an independent justice system. Thus, the Office of the Judiciary was created within the civil service by the Justice Act 2015. This gave financial and administrative autonomy to the Office of the Judiciary – a major development in Namibian history. This development reinforces the separation of powers as stipulated by the constitution.
The guarantee of access to justice is thus achieved, while significant reforms were initiated in the High Court, which included judge-controlled litigation (also known as case management), mediation and electronic filing.
According to the Judiciary Spokesperson, Selma Mwaetako, these three initiatives continue to be of great value in finalizing cases quickly, thereby reducing court costs.
In addition, in order to broaden the pool from which judges could be appointed, the Office of the Judiciary commissioned a training program for serving judges and superior court legal researchers under the flagship training program for aspirants. judges.
This initiative is bearing fruit since several trainees have been appointed to the seat of the Tribunal de Grande Instance, either as full judges or as full judges.
Mwaetako said that although access to justice is a challenge due to the high cost of litigation, judicial reforms are underway to ensure that court costs are reduced.
“The Directorate of Legal Aid is an important institution, which should benefit from adequate funding and a strengthened administration. But I also think legal practitioners should be doing more pro bono work on behalf of the less fortunate in our society. This, after all, should be their social responsibility,” she noted, adding that relevant steps are being taken to address the shortage of magistrates in lower courts.
The justice sector has indeed undergone enormous transformations since independence.
“The legal fraternity now reflects the demographics of the country; judges and magistrates too. More citizens have access to justice. There are magistrates’ courts in almost every district of the country. Gender balance is evident in the composition of the judiciary, although there is certainly room for improvement at some level in the judiciary,” Mwaetako observed.