Judiciary’s latest performance management report paints a rosy picture of the justice system. All the courts recorded substantive improvement in the management of cases, with backlog of suits five years old and above more than halved. It indicates that the rate of clearance of cases has improved remarkably. Indeed, all the indicators point to a positive trajectory.
For a good measure, the Judiciary identified top-performing courts and awarded them to inspire others. All that sounds great.
However, all these plaudits seem unreal; they only appear on paper. Real experiences from the courts are harrowing and at variance with what the performance indicators suggest. The starting point is that justice delayed is justice denied. It’s explicit that delays in adjudicating cases still persist. Missing files, case backlogs and whimsical rulings continue at the Judiciary.
Significantly, the fight against corruption has exposed the courts. Since changes were made at the helm of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution in the third quarter of last year, the country witnessed a revamped and re-energised fight against corruption. For some time, top government officials were seized and arraigned over corruption. It seemed like a turning point and the public thought the cases would be quickly concluded and those found guilty punished as wrongfully acquired assets were confiscated.
To date, however, few of those cases have been concluded. And the spotlight turned to the courts with the concern that they were unduly delaying adjudication of the suits. Certainly, there are many reasons for the slow prosecution of the cases, among them poor investigation by the relevant agencies and trickery by lawyers who are adept at occasioning unnecessary adjournments.
But the grander question is, has the Judiciary acquitted itself well in handling the cases? There are serious concerns that the Judiciary has been complicit and has rolled back the fight. The cases have been slowed unduly and momentum more or less lost.
Outside those cases, generally, suspects have been acquitted in highly questionable circumstances. Some rulings are implausible, suggesting external influence. Even where they are not externally induced, some rulings are never commensurate with the crime committed; minor offences are heavily punished while grave ones are glossed over, raising questions about the objectivity and rationality of the justice system.
We are encouraged by the steps being made to turn around the Judiciary. However, the measures of success advanced do not reflect what ordinary people go through and feel about the courts.