President Hage Geingob has called on the Judiciary to address concerns about court rolls being full and cases taking too long to finalize.
Speaking at the opening of the Judiciary's 2023 legal year in Windhoek, Geingob emphasized that the government is aware of the financial constraints it faces.
Noted challenges include a shortage of judicial officers, limited court infrastructure, and a lack of availability of qualified legal practitioners to take positions on the bench as judicial officers.
President Geingob says while the government looks for ways to address budget cuts and other challenges, public concerns about the delay in finalizing cases before a court must be addressed.
"There remain consistent concerns that court rolls are full and that matters brought before the courts take a long time to be finalized. It is also common cause that there is a new phenomenon whereby more and more people are resorting to litigation in the event of a dispute, thus contributing to a heavy caseload on the court's roll. I encourage the judiciary, in collaboration with the Minister of Justice and other key players in the legal fraternity, to explore innovative ways to increase court capacity through the establishment of specialized courts such as community justice services, small claims courts, family courts, and commercial courts."
Inequality and high legal costs are other factors that the President wants the legal fraternity to look into.
These, he says, hinder access to justice. "The legal fraternity should regularly review its fees and evaluate the affordability thereof within the confines of its governance framework. Similarly, the promotion of the culture of pro bono work, which, for some of us laymen, means "free of charge," would go a long way towards improving access to justice."
The Directorate of Lower Courts, in particular, has critical vacancies that have yet to be filled.
There are more than 250 posts currently vacant within the Judiciary.
"The number of vacant posts in the Directorate of Lower Courts is worrisome because magistrates' courts and the High Court are primarily trial courts, that is, first instance courts. They hear evidence from witnesses in both civil and criminal matters. That is an inherently labor-intensive and time-consuming activity. The fewer judicial officers and administrative support staff there are, the fewer cases they can deal with."
A lack of qualified candidates complicates efforts to balance the male-female ratio in staff appointments.
"In last year's report, I opined that greater effort was required to bring more women onto the Supreme Court bench. The Judicial Service Commission has had deliberations on the matter, and I am in the process of conducting consultations across the board to address the concern. I am confident that in my next year's report, I will report progress on the matter. I wish to stress, however, that the situation at the Supreme Court is part of a larger problem that confronts not only the judiciary but the country as a whole and therefore requires our collective wisdom. The High Court is supposed to be the primary source of recruitment to the Supreme Court, but as we all know, finding willing and suitably qualified candidates for appointment to the High Court has not been plain sailing."