Shrinking budgets put the Judiciary’s work under stress – Chief Justice
At the virtual opening of the Legal Year on Thursday, the Chief Justice, His Lordship Hon Peter Shivute said the judiciary had to recalibrate its operations and processes to meet the reality of Covid-19.
“To that end, all the Courts and administrative support units in the Office of the Judiciary have implemented strategies to adapt to the reality of Covid-19,” said the Chief Justice.
Describing court operations as maintained at a reasonable level, Shivute lamented the lack of progress in developing both capacity and infrastructure in the way Namibian courts operate.
“The sad reality though is that the pandemic has impeded progress in that the many good plans and initiatives we had pre-Covid-19 have been all but shelved. These include human capital development and infrastructure improvement.”
At the opening, the Chief Justice quoted a range of statistics reflecting the performance of the Judiciary against a background of limited resources.
“The statistics reveal the undoubted impact of the pandemic on our national life – good and bad. They show a decrease in civil case filings in the courts generally, an increase in some social evils because of hard lockdowns and an appreciable decrease in others which, for their thriving, depend on freedom of movement,” stated Shivute.
Pandemic induced absenteeism of court staff was a major reason for a noticeable reduction in the number of cases completed in the lower courts. This was however not the case in the Supreme Court where delivery has slightly improved in 2021, mostly because the Supreme Court does not need the presence of witnesses.
“The Supreme Court has encouraged parties to participate in virtual hearings when circumstances required and it never became necessary for appeals to be postponed on account of unavailability of legal practitioners,” Shivute continued.
The Chief Justice also gave an overview of gender representation in the courts, saying that in the Magistrate’s Courts, women constitute more than 55% of the magistracy and 42% of the judges in the High Court. In the Supreme Court, however, there are zero female judges. As a remedy for this situation, the Chief Justice suggested that female High Court judges are provided the opportunity to act as Supreme Court judges to gain experience and to prepare them for a tenured appointment at a later stage.
Hon Justice Shivute did not mince his words when discussing the Judiciary’s budget, saying that the shortfall in the previous financial year was N$28 million and for the current year, it is estimated to reach N$35 million.
“The impact of the pandemic on the national fiscus has been devastating. The true state of affairs has been laid bare by the Hon Minister of Finance in his budget speeches to Parliament. As a result, the Judiciary’s budget has not only shrunk in real terms in the past two financial years but we have been asked by Treasury on several occasions to make cuts during the course of budget implementation.”
Click here to access the Chief Justice’s report on Court Statistics