CHIEF Magistrate John Numapo has expressed concerns over the long delays and adjournments made on cases without good reasons.
He made this bench mark remark last week when hearing cases which he found to have been unnecessarily delayed and adjourned for too long.
“Lawyers have a duty to both the court and their clients to ensure that unnecessary delays and adjournments are avoided at all times, Mr Numapo said.
He said the Constitution says that all persons charged with a criminal offence must be tried “within a reasonable time” and that means the case must be tried and disposed of without delay.
“An accused person is innocent until proven guilty and therefore, must be accorded the full protection of the law which includes having his or her case dealt with expediently, promptly and in a timely manner.
“I am concerned that a good number of cases have been adjourned unnecessarily and for far too long without good reasons.
“I am particularly concerned with those accused held on remand.
“Some of them have been in custody for more than 12 months and one or two have been remanded in custody for over two years and that is simply unacceptable.
“Not only is it a breach of their constitutional right but it may also become a Human Rights issue if we are not careful,” Mr Numapo said.
The chief magistrate said the risk is that they might be locking up innocent people unnecessarily for a long period of time without a lawful justification.
“Overcrowding is also an issue with remandees up at the Rove Prison giving rise to health and other issues.
“This concern is not new and some of you lawyers may have heard me many times before about this so-called delays and unnecessary adjournments in the Magistrates Court.
“Much of these delays had to do with either incomplete police investigation files and lack of disclosures or unavailability of counsels or both.
“Magistrates have also expressed similar concerns regarding long delays.
“I understand that lack of resources and personals has been a problem for a long time within the Office of DPP and the Public Solicitors Office and I can only suggest that the government looks at providing these law offices with sufficient resources and manpower to do their jobs effectively.
“We are now thinking of introducing some timelines on certain category or type of criminal cases at the Magistrates Court,” Mr Numapo said.
He said what this means is that some cases will have specific timelines from start to finish and if they are not finalized within the given time period then the magistrates will ask for an explanation from the lawyers having the carriage of the matter.
He added that if no satisfactory explanation is given then the court will exercise its unfettered discretion to strike out the case.
“This is one option we are considering to avoid delays and speed up disposition of cases.
“We intend to introduce these timelines as part of the Court’s Practice Directions.
“Absence of lawyers is also an on-going issue that needs to be addressed as well.
“Lawyers must schedule their cases properly so that it is not clashing with their other commitments.
“A number of accused in recent weeks have opted to proceed on with their cases without legal representation as their lawyers have not been turning up and they cannot wait any longer.
“This is happening both with the public and the private bar and it does not reflect well on the legal fraternity as a whole.
“To have an effective criminal justice system in the country the courts need the support of the lawyers and others involved in the administration of justice,” Mr Numapo said.
By ASSUMPTA BUCHANAN