AN acute shortage of judges on the High Court bench has created a bottleneck in the justice system, threatening the orderly and timely discharges of cases, sources have revealed.
Delays of up to two months or more are becoming the norms after the Court has dealt with a case, the sources said.
One case in point involved APID, a logging company masquerading as a mining firm, which applied to the High Court to block the sale and export of a stockpile of bauxite on Rennell, claiming the pile is on its concession area.
This was after Cabinet had granted approval to PT Mega Bintang Borneo Ltd, a mining company which dug up the bauxite to export the stockpile.
PT Mega Bintang Borneo Ltd has counter-challenged the case, which was heard on 3rd July this year.
“All we want is simple. We just want to export the stockpile,” a company official said.
“But this is taking too long. The case was heard on 03rd July this year. Seven weeks on and we are still waiting for a decision,” the spokesman said.
It is understood the delay in deciding the case is robbing the government of a potential windfall estimated at around SBD$10 million in export tax.
Landowners too have been deprived of royalty payments, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
These estimates are based on the export of the first shipment of 50, 000 tons, which brought in about SBD$800, 000 in export taxes to government coffers and an additional SBD$120, 000 in royalty payments to landowners.
Meanwhile, the sources have stressed that getting new judges to sit on the High Court bench is becoming very difficult because of the poor pay and working conditions.
“Judges are overworked on poor pay and terms and conditions. It will be very difficult to attract judges, even local lawyers because they get more money working outside than being on the bench,” one source said.
The sources pointed to one local lawyer as an example.
James Apiniai resigned as a High Court judge just because of being overworked.
Mr Apaniai is now the new Attorney General.
It is understood donors who have supported the justice sector have decided to terminate their support.
Finance Minister Snyder Rini says he’s not aware if the Judiciary has asked for more money to hire more judges and to improve their working conditions.
By ALFRED SASAKO