Unavailability of funds crippling judiciary: Shivute

Chief Justice Peter Shivute says lack of sufficient funds � attributed to slow economic recovery � is crippling the effective functioning of the Office of the Judiciary, one of the three State branches.

The other two are the Executive and Legislature.

Shivute aired the judiciary's plight during the official opening of Namibia's legal year on Wednesday.

For the year under review, the Office of the Judiciary was allocated N.dollars 368.4 million for all of its operations and later slashed by N.dollars 8.2 million during the mid-term budget review.

Of this figure, N.dollars 279.8 million is reserved for personnel expenditure, leaving only N.dollars 80.4 for the other needs of the Judiciary.

He said the financial situation has the potential to undermine [the] execution of its [Judiciary's] core mandate.

Items such as payment of witness fees, utilities and subsistence allowances for periodical courts, come from the operational budget. Currently we are experiencing a shortfall of four million Namibia Dollars N.dollars 4 million in witness fees. What that means is that not only are new trials under threat of not commencing, but part-heard matters may not be completed, Shivute rued.

As at 31 January 2020, the office had depleted 85 per cent of its allocated funds.

The Office of the Judiciary has an approved personnel complement of 930 of which only 718 positions are filled.

We still need to fill 212 vacancies if we are to operate optimally. Sixteen High Court judges' positions and 12 magistrates' positions are vacant but cannot be filled due to shortage of funds, Shivute said.

However, Shivute was not ignorant to the fact that the economic slowdown is cross-cutting.

But we have to accept that the situation is increasingly becoming untenable for the Judiciary's ability to deliver speedy justice to the public, he said.

To arrest some of the shortcomings and in an attempt to improve service delivery, the High Court has begun to roll out a Commercial List for the resolution of commercial disputes.

Meanwhile, the said while the development of a new website for the Office of the Judiciary is at an advanced stage.

Added to this are three important pieces of legislation are likely to be introduced in Parliament.

The first is a Bill to extend divorce jurisdiction to regional courts. The second involves significantly increasing the civil jurisdiction of the District Courts. The third Bill will introduce plea-bargaining in criminal cases which, if properly applied, will result in disposition without trial of criminal cases, he said.

For the better part of the last five years, the Namibian economy has experienced a slowdown, which has subsequently made it difficult for the government to honour all its financial obligations.

Source: Namibia Press Agency