Decline of trust in Judiciary system worrisome

Trust in the Judiciary system and perceived strength of the rule of law is on the decline and 18 percent of legal practitioners who took part in a recent survey, titled Trust in the Judiciary and Perceived of the Rule of Law is of the opinion that High Court judgments are not of legal sound mind.

Even experts in the legal fraternity are questioning the integrity of those who pass judgments on cases brought before them to which they are expected to act impartially.

The country’s judicial system comprises of the Supreme Court, presided over by a chief justice, the High Court, presided over by a judge president, and the lower and magistrates’ courts.

The Supreme Court serves as a constitutional court and a final court of appeal.

About 7 percent of legal practitioners in the country are of the opinion that judgments passed by the Supreme Court are somewhat not consistent yet 18 percent of legal experts in the above survey view High Court judgments as being of no legal sound.

How then do we move from here? How can an ordinary person with no legal knowledge trust the country Judicial System?

The legal soundness of the judgments of the Supreme Court can be linked to the case of 2019 presidential Elections Independent Candidate, Dr Panduleni Itula, who sued the ECN and various state actors for the annulment of the elections due to the Electronic Voters Machines (EVM’s) used in the election not having a verifiable paper trial.

In his ruling, Chief Justice Peter Shivute, found that indeed there was a need for the EVM’s to have a verifiable paper trial, he however ruled that new elections cannot be called as it would be a direct threat to peace and security in the country.

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Ndodji Ndeunyema, a local academic, is quoted in an Oxford article published on their Human Rights Hub saying that, “Once the court vindicated the applicants on paperless EVM’s as unconstitutional, the matter ought to have cantered all citizens’ inalienable right to elect their political representatives using a credible, verifiable and transparent voting mechanism. In declining to nullify the election, the court rendered hollow its own assertion of the “indispensable” requirement of paper trails in electoral transparency, credibility and verifiability when exercising one’s right to vote.

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The non-negotiable essential content of the right to vote was thus effectively negated with the court’s acquiescence,” Ndeunyema opined.

Some of the negative perceptions legal practitioners hold regarding Namibia’s judiciary are that High Court judges may be involved in corruption and they, High Court Judges, and to a lesser extent Supreme Court Judges are appointed based on factors other than merit.

What other factors can these be? Could there be political factors? Where a Judge is appointed to serve on the pleasure of their master?

How then can an ordinary person in the street trust the country’s judiciary system, when legal expects are of the opinion that the country’s Judges are sometimes of biased opinion.

On the question regarding legal practitioners’ perception of corruption amongst judges of the high and supreme courts twenty percent of respondents said corruption in the judiciary increased somewhat while five percent were of the view that it increased a lot.

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Sixty five percent opined that corruption stayed the same.

This disparity shows that legal practitioners perceive judgments of the Supreme Court to be more legally sound than its lower counterpart the High Court of Namibia.

Results of the survey comes as the country has slipped 12 places from 34 to 46 on the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index released on October 26.

Are we on the right track?