Speech by the President of the Law Society of Namibia,
Adv Harald Geier, on the occasion of the launching
of the High Court Legal Year 2010
18 January 2010
My Lords and Ladies
The Honourable Omudsman
The Honourable Prosecutor General of the Republic of Namibia
The President of the Society of Advocates
The President of the Namibia Law Association
Learned senior counsel, colleagues,
Members of the profession and
Candidate of legal practitioners
The Registrar, and
Staff of the high court
Ladies and gentlemen
In accordance with the precedents which have been set by various speakers since the introduction of the annual ceremonial opening of the High Court legal year in January 2006 by his Lordship the Judge President, it has become customary to comment at this occasion on some of the events of the past year and also to consider the challenges of the year lying ahead.
It was then the High Court legal year 2009, which, at its close, saw the appointment of 4 new permanent High Court Judges.
I wish to firstly take this opportunity to congratulate them once again on their appointment and trust that their judgments will enhance the jurisprudence of Namibia.
On the subject matter of judicial appointments in general two aspects do however come to mind.
In the past, and although it does not take much to imagine why the Law Society and its members have a direct and substantial interest in all judicial appointments, the Law Society was not informed in advance of any imminent judicial appointments. It would accordingly be appreciated it this practice could be re-assessed as this would enable the legal profession to make and give its input through the Law Society on any such envisaged appointments.
Secondly, and related to the first aspect, and surprising as it may seem, it needs to be mentioned that since the enactment of the Judicial Services Commission Act during 1995, no regulations have as yet been promulgated. Such regulations, so it is thought, would, inter alia also prescribe a procedure for the appointment of judges, which procedure would make the entire process more transparent.
The promulgation of such rules would accordingly be welcomed.
The issue of outstanding judgments has featured as an important Rule of Law topic in the last couple of years at this occasion and as this issue has not yet been entirely resolved I am duty-bound, as my predecessors were, to address this issue also on this occasion.
You will be well aware by now that the Law Society of Namibia lodged a complaint in this regard with the Judicial Services Commission during 2008, in which the Law Society complained of misconduct against certain judges for their failure to deliver reserved judgments within a period of, at least two years from the date that such judgements were reserved.
The decision of the Judicial Services Commission on this complaint was communicated to the Law Society during November 2009 when the Law Society was informed that the Judicial Services Commission had concluded that “ there is no prima facie case of ‘gross misconduct’ against the judges complained against … “.
Also during December 2009, and in accordance with a mandate received from members during the Annual General Meeting of the Law Society, a second, and similar complaint to the first, was lodged in respect of further judgements, which had in the interim become outstanding for a period of, at least two years from the date such judgements were reserved.
This second complaint remains pending.
Importantly on this topic it needs to be mentioned that under cover of the Judicial Services Commissions response to the first complaint, the Law Society was informed that certain deadlines for those outstanding judgments have now been set and that the Honourable Judge- President had also proposed, for implementation, reasonable standards for observance by Judges of the High Court in delivering reserved judgements.
These developments are welcomed and it is thought that this issue can and will finally be resolved during this year.
AFFORDABLE LEGAL SERVICES
In the speech delivered on behalf of the Honourable Minister of Justice during the Annual General Meeting of the Law Society held during November 2009, the Hon. Minister saw fit to reiterate certain of her comments which she had made at the opening of the Oshakati High Court were she had stated that :
“… working together with the University of Namibia’s Law Faculty, the Law Society and others … certain challenges facing the justice sector are not insurmountable …”
and where she had gone on to caution that :
“… only when we genuinely assume common purpose will we be successful, which success is for the citizens to enjoy …”.
The Annual General Meeting was informed that the Minister was apparently making reference to certain challenges facing the justice sector when the Government Justice Sector’s commitment to ensure that ‘we’, (the Ministry, the Law Faculty and Law Society) can work together to ensure that the citizenry has access to affordable legal services from both the public and private sector was underscored on her behalf.
My predecessor Adv Schimming-Chase during her speech delivered during last years opening of the High Court legal year stated the Law Society’s position in this regard when she said that :
“… it is imperative to look at what this legal profession can do to assist the plight of those who are unable to afford access to legal assistance…”.
It would appear therefore that common purpose does indeed exist in this regard.
On the other hand it should not be forgotten that also the legal fraternity is not immune to the economic environment it operates in and the global financial crisis, which, so it is expected by some, will only really be felt in Namibia during this year and which will, inter alia, also once again bring about a significant increase in the cost of living. In that regard her predecessor, Mr. Charles Bodenstein, was in my view correct in pointing out that :
“… economically speaking, legal practitioners are on an escalating scale being put under more pressure to earn more money in order to maintain the same standard of living … “.
In my view the quest to bring about access to affordable legal services must therefore strike a balance between these interests.
The Law Society is accordingly prepared to join hands with the Ministry and others to work towards this common goal.
On the same occasion the Honourable Minister also indicated that further transformation of the legal profession was required in her view.
On this score the Law Society also has certain views and it is for instance felt in this regard that the ‘so-called 50/50 legislation’, which had been enacted to bring about affirmative action in the Law Society, is for instance no longer required in view of the transformation already achieved and which is in any event taking place on an ongoing basis.
Allow me to use this opportunity to assure the Hon. Minister that the Law Society continues to be highly sensitive to the requirement of transformation and the Society, from its side, is more than willing to also join hands with the Ministry also on this important issue.
THE YEAR LYING AHEAD
In closing allow me to touch on two matters which are expected to receive attention this year.
Obviously and importantly the Law Society continues to be committed to its task to assist in the enhancement of professional standards.
It is expected that this task will be executed on two fronts in that, on the one front, further training for already admitted legal practitioners will be offered, while on the other the Law Society is already preparing to give its input in respect of the expected review of the current system of practical legal training for candidate legal practitioners.
But until such time that any such review is implemented, if at all, I wish to renew the appeal to all senior legal practitioners to make their time available at the Justice Training Centre to ensure that aspirant members to the legal profession receive the best possible practical legal training thereby equipping them in the best possible manner for a successful future in a demanding profession.
AMENDMENTS TO THE LEGAL PRACTITIONERS ACT 1995
Also high on the agenda will be the planned Special Meeting at which the Law Society will seek a mandate from its members for various amendments to the Legal Practitioner’s Act.
In this regard and once such a mandate has been obtained the assistance of the Ministry of Justice will be sought.
Also on this front I assume common purpose, at least on bread and butter issues, affecting the day to day affairs of the legal profession and the public, which in the offered spirit of co-operation surely will go a long way to ensure that most of the challenges lying ahead will be successfully met.
Allow me finally to say that it has been my privilege to address you here as the representative of the legal fraternity in Namibia and may I also take this opportunity to wish you a successful and prosperous 2010.
I thank you.
Speech by the President of the Law Society of Namibia,