By CHIKUMBI KATEBE
THE Lusaka High Court has recorded an increase in cases filed before it in the last 12 months with over 4000 records filed in the various divisions with only 26 judges to preside over them.
Opening the 2017 Lusaka High Court Session yesterday, Justice Nichola Sharp-Phiri said there was a significant increase in the number of civil and criminal cases brought before the courts with 4076 in 2016.
She said the high number of cases against a small number of judges and limited infrastructure has contributed to the delays in disposing of cases resulting in a huge backlog of cases in the court system.
“There are only 26 judges in the Lusaka High Court on both the general and commercial list to adjudicate upon all these cases. This is an average of approximately 160 cases allocated to each judge in one year,” she said.
Ms Justice Sharp-Phiri said it was very difficult for judges to adjudicate cases in a timely manner with the voluminous number of cases filed each year with the limited number justices.
She also raised concern at the high number of non-bailable offences before court that has resulted in congestion at holding facilities and called for Government intervention in infrastructure development in the judiciary.
She explained that inadequate infrastructure in the judiciary, especially lack of office space and the few number of court rooms have also impacted the inefficiency in proceedings as judges had to alternate or even adjourn cases due to lack of room.
She charged that even the security of judiciary staff including the judges was a huge challenge at court premises although measures were being put in place to improve that aspect.
And the court has expressed concern at the number of cases of causing death by dangerous driving which account for over 30 percent of the criminal matter before court, an act which Justice Sharp-Phiri said was alarming despite Government’s efforts to curb the act.
She said an effective justice system was only achievable with consented efforts by all stakeholders including the Police service, National Prosecution Authority (NPA), the Legal Aid Board, the Prisons Service and the Attorney General’s Chambers for the smooth running of the criminal justice system.
And Minister of Justice Given Lubinda has commended the Judiciary for their professionalism in dispensing justice, and called upon them not to allow unnecessary intimidation from politicians in their line of duty.
He said Honourable members of the Bench must remain fully accountable, transparent and independent in the discharge of their duties without allowing themselves unnecessary intimidation from especially politicians.
“This is because a well-functioning judiciary enhances the quality of life of all the people and raises the profile of a country at all levels and gives investors’ confidence to invest in eh economy,” he said.
He said Government has resolved to increase the number of High Court Judges to about 50 to 60 to help reduce the high number of backlog criminal cases taking long to be disposed off.