Govt reaffirms independence of judiciary, but with accountability

Govt reaffirms independence of judiciary, but with accountability

GOVERNMENT remains as committed as ever to respecting and protecting the independence of the judiciary, but at the same time the judiciary should also be accountable and responsive to the hopes and concerns of the public, a meeting of Chief Justices from southern and eastern Africa was told in Windhoek on Friday.

The remarks about Government’s views on judicial independence came from Dr Albert Kawana, Minister of Presidential Affairs, when he officially opened the annual general meeting of the Southern African Judges’ Commission on behalf of President Hifikepunye Pohamba. In the process, he appears to have signalled that while Government strongly supports the notion of judicial independence, the idea of a judiciary whose only concern would be the law, to the exclusion of the views of Government and the public, is not something that sits easily with Government.In remarks made before Kawana officially opened the conference on behalf of the President, Chief Justice Peter Shivute said members of the Judges’ Commission were alive to the fact “that we cannot stand aloof from efforts being made in this part of our continent to promote human rights, constitutional democracy and good governance”.Based on this, he said, talks at the gathering intended to centre on themes like the promotion of the independence and accountability of the judiciary, with the objective of enhancing the quality of justice dispensed by courts in the region.The President’s opening remarks, as relayed by Kawana, tied in directly with this theme.The Chief Justices were told that the rule of law, which in turn is premised on an independent judiciary, was a vital foundation for other ideals that Government is striving for.The rule of law should not be seen as “a mere speculative thought”, though, he added.”There must be in existence a truly independent judiciary within the constitutional scheme of separation of powers,” the Minister said.He continued: “However, we must not think of the independence of the judiciary as meaning merely independence from the legislature and the executive.It means something more: it means independence from political and other influences – whether exerted by the other organs of State or by members of the public or, indeed, brought into play by members of the judiciary itself through their covert or overt involvement in politics or because of their sheer distaste for certain government policies.”While the judiciary’s independence should be guaranteed, this did not give judges limitless freedom to do as they please, Kawana indicated.”We believe that in a democracy, every organ of the State must be accountable.There should be no holy cows.”Government and the judiciary should also continue to co-operate to make the country’s judges more responsive to the hopes, aspirations and concerns of the greater majority of Namibia’s people, Kawana said.He noted that Namibia’s former Chief Justice Johan Strydom had once remarked: “Our courts should be aware of and alert to public concerns in order to achieve the critical balance between legitimacy and independence, which is imperative if our courts are to maintain a vibrant democracy in Namibia.””We wish to associate ourselves with this insightful remark because it reflects our own thinking regarding the role of the judiciary in society,” Kawana said.”Doubtless, by being responsive to the concerns of the public, the judiciary will be working co-operatively with the executive in generating public confidence in the judiciary and the justice it dispenses.This is vital because justice is rooted in confidence, and confidence is lost when the right-minded section of the public is of the view that the courts have let the people down.”The meeting was attended by the Chief Justices of Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Mauritius.The Chief Justice of Botswana was unable to be present because of illness.In the process, he appears to have signalled that while Government strongly supports the notion of judicial independence, the idea of a judiciary whose only concern would be the law, to the exclusion of the views of Government and the public, is not something that sits easily with Government.In remarks made before Kawana officially opened the conference on behalf of the President, Chief Justice Peter Shivute said members of the Judges’ Commission were alive to the fact “that we cannot stand aloof from efforts being made in this part of our continent to promote human rights, constitutional democracy and good governance”.Based on this, he said, talks at the gathering intended to centre on themes like the promotion of the independence and accountability of the judiciary, with the objective of enhancing the quality of justice dispensed by courts in the region.The President’s opening remarks, as relayed by Kawana, tied in directly with this theme.The Chief Justices were told that the rule of law, which in turn is premised on an independent judiciary, was a vital foundation for other ideals that Government is striving for.The rule of law should not be seen as “a mere speculative thought”, though, he added.”There must be in existence a truly independent judiciary within the constitutional scheme of separation of powers,” the Minister said.He continued: “However, we must not think of the independence of the judiciary as meaning merely independence from the legislature and the executive.It means something more: it means independence from political and other influences – whether exerted by the other organs of State or by members of the public or, indeed, brought into play by members of the judiciary itself through their covert or overt involvement in politics or because of their sheer distaste for certain government policies.”While the judiciary’s independence should be guaranteed, this did not give judges limitless freedom to do as they please, Kawana indicated.”We believe that in a democracy, every organ of the State must be accountable.There should be no holy cows.”Government and the judiciary should also continue to co-operate to make the country’s judges more responsive to the hopes, aspirations and concerns of the greater majority of Namibia’s people, Kawana said.He noted that Namibia’s former Chief Justice Johan Strydom had once remarked: “Our courts should be aware of and alert to public concerns in order to achieve the critical balance between legitimacy and independence, which is imperative if our courts are to maintain a vibrant democracy in Namibia.””We wish to associate ourselves with this insightful remark because it reflects our own thinking regarding the role of the judiciary in society,” Kawana said.”Doubtless, by being responsive to the concerns of the public, the judiciary will be working co-operatively with the executive in generating public confidence in the judiciary and the justice it dispenses.This is vital because justice is rooted in confidence, and confidence is lost when the right-minded section of the public is of the view that the courts have let the people down.”The meeting was attended by the Chief Justices of Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Mauritius.The Chief Justice of Botswana was unable to be present because of illness.

Stay informed with The Namibian – your source for credible journalism. Get in-depth reporting and opinions for only N$85 a month. Invest in journalism, invest in democracy –
Subscribe Now!

Latest News