The High Court has undertaken a number of review judgements in May, setting aside convictions and sentences.

The reviews also led to reduced sentences and fines imposed by lower courts, an indication that Namibia's justice system is able to self-correct.

In line with Section 20 of the High Court Act, seven cases were taken on review by a two-member judge panel.

Most of the cases that went on review were related to drug-related trials.

In the matter between the State vs Shimirimana Jadodiya, the panel set aside the conviction and his 24-month jail sentence.

The accused appeared before the Outjo Magistrate's Court in February this year after he was found to be in possession of dependence-producing substances.

The value of the substance was estimated at over N$11,000, and the accused pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 24 months in jail.

The review court, however, asked the magistrate to explain how the magistrate could reasonably ascertain that the accused person knew the substance was indeed cannabis, to which the magistrate responded that the accused person could identify the plant by smell.

In the review judgement, the superior court concluded that the law requires that the court be satisfied about the accused's guilt before convicting him or her, saying there is a need for corroborative evidence, such as an analyst's certificate or testimony from a police officer familiar with the substance.

The State vs. Llewellyn Beukes is another matter in which the judiciary exhibits self-correction.

Beukes, too, was charged with dealing in a dependence-producing substance or, alternatively, possession of a dependence-producing substance.

He pleaded not guilty on the main count of dealing and guilty on the alternative count of possession, and he was subsequently convicted on the charge of possession and sentenced to a fine of N$6,000 or two years' imprisonment.

Upon the superior court asking the magistrate if he was satisfied that the accused knew that the substance he was caught with was cannabis in light of the fact that there was no laboratory analysis presented, the magistrate said the accused knew what the drugs were, and as such, laboratory results were not needed. 

The magistrate was adamant that the accused admitted all the allegations in the charge and was rightly convicted.

However, the review panel found that the magistrate could not have been satisfied that the accused indeed knew it was cannabis. 

Accordingly, the conviction and sentence stand to be set aside.

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Emil Seibeb