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Judicial CP - April 2003

The Namibian, Windhoek, 4 April 2003

Witchdoctors Wanted Above Lawyers in Traditional Courts

By Werner Menges

Apr 04, 2003 (The Namibian/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) -- Witchdoctors and traditional healers are considered by some to be more welcome in traditional courts in Namibia than trained lawyers, a parliamentary report on the proposed new Community Courts Bill indicates.

The report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Governmental Affairs was tabled in the National Assembly on Wednesday.

The Committee held consultations with various communities throughout Namibia from July to September.


The Bill aims to bring existing Traditional Courts into the mainstream of the administration of justice in Namibia, by recognising and establishing Community Courts and giving these bodies the power to have their decisions enforced.

The Bill has been roundly welcomed by traditional authorities.

The Committee reported that traditional authorities believed the proposed law would restore old traditions, culture and norms and the moral values of communities lost during colonisation.

In some communities, though, there was apprehension that the Bill would be unfair to traditional authorities not formally recognised by Government at this stage.

Only traditional authorities recognised in terms of the Traditional Authorities Act of 2000 will have the right to apply for recognition of a Community Court.

In terms of the Bill any person deemed to have sufficient knowledge of a community's customary laws will be eligible to become a justice in that community's court.

The Committee received expressions of concern about this, too.

Some felt this set-up would seriously curtail the powers of traditional authorities, as currently traditional leaders automatically become justices in their traditional courts.

On the matter of representation, the Committee reported that almost 80 per cent of communities visited were opposed to a legal practitioner defending a person in a Community Court.

Reasons included that because of their formal education lawyers will embarrass officers of the Community Courts, and that they will bring common law principles and concepts into the Community Courts, too.

While lawyers are considered unwelcome, some communities wanted to know if traditional healers or witchdoctors will be allowed to represent a person in these courts.

The Committee notes that the Bill states that a person can be represented by any person.

This would include witchdoctors or traditional healers - and even lawyers, as the Constitution guarantees the right to be legally represented at a trial.

Some communities were vehement in proposing that Community Courts should be allowed to mete out corporal punishment, as this is considered to be the only form of punishment that deters criminals and potential criminals.

The Committee rejected this suggestion, noting that this would be in conflict with the Constitution and the Supreme Court decision in which corporal punishment was declared unconstitutional in Namibia.

The National Assembly is now set to consider the report and discuss the Bill afresh.

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