Judicial

More criminal cases halted in 2020 due to absence of accused persons and witnesses

Summary

Chief Justice Peter Shivute said the absence of accused persons and the inability of witnesses to travel due to the coronavirus pandemic slowed down progress and finalisation of High Court criminal cases in the last year.Speaking during the opening of …

Chief Justice Peter Shivute said the absence of accused persons and the inability of witnesses to travel due to the coronavirus pandemic slowed down progress and finalisation of High Court criminal cases in the last year.

Speaking during the opening of the 2021 legal year held virtually on Wednesday, Shivute said the pandemic had a more direct impact on the disposal of criminal cases as such cases depend on the presence of accused persons and witnesses who hail from across the country. This, he said, resulted in criminal cases either not proceeding or hearings becoming part-heard.

In 2020, the criminal stream of the High Court main division recorded a finalisation rate of 30 per cent and the northern local division of the High Court a finalisation figure of 25 per cent in accusation trial matters.

For both divisions, judges of the criminal stream presided over 288 criminal appeals of which 247 were finalised. This according to Shivute shows an increase in finalisation of criminal appeals compared to the 2019 legal year.

“This statistic demonstrates the reality that the criminal stream performed far better in areas where the presence of witnesses or accused persons was not necessary,” he said.

Of the 110 cases appearing on the 2021 court roll for the Main Division and Northern Local Division, 57 are part-heard matters, 24 are set down for plea and trial, 25 are on the mentions roll and four are to be removed as the accused have absconded.

Shivute also stated that despite difficulties, the High Court was able to use innovative ways that helped judges in the civil stream deliver more judgments in 2020 compared to 2019. More opposed motions were also heard and disposed of in 2020 than in 2019.

“A total of 1 094 civil cases were referred to court-connected mediation in the two divisions of the High Court, resulting in 621 out-of-court settlements. This is an increase in matters referred to mediation as compared to 2019. The High Court’s electronic case management system which gives access to court services online no doubt blunted the effect of the pandemic on the work of the civil stream,” Shivute said.

He further stated that the High Court’s mediation office was forced to rely on internal capacity and extra hours during the state of emergency which, however, resulted in a successful percentage rate.

In 2020, the High Court Main Division recorded a success rate of 67 per cent in mediations compared to a success rate of 57 per cent in 2019. Meanwhile, the Northern Local Division recorded a success rate of 68 per cent compared to 2019’s success rate of 56 per cent in mediations.

Source: Nampa