Open the Court of Appeal NOW!

Open the Court of Appeal NOW!

FOR years this newspaper has vociferously opposed the government’s interference with the judiciary’s independence.
We remain unwavering on that standpoint because an independent judiciary is the cornerstone of any democracy. An emasculated judiciary breeds chaos and allows corruption to fester.

Without independent courts the ordinary people are at the mercy of powerful crooked politicians and individuals. Nobbled courts serve the elite who pay their way out of trouble or simply use their authority to force judges and magistrates to do their bidding.

But this week we find ourselves reluctant to tell the government to keep its paws off the courts. We are perturbed by the decision to shut down the Court of Appeal.
We refrain from telling government to back off because we believe there is no justification to close the court.

Senior officials at the Palace of Justice have said there is no money to keep the courts running. Yet everyone else, including the government, insist there is enough money.
The Minister of Finance, who manages the government‘s kitty, says there is money.
The Minister of Justice insists there is enough money.

Members of Parliament, including those in the oppositions who rarely agree with the government, say money is there. They swear that the allegation that there is no money is false. Place their explanations in the context of the recent budget and you will see that the decision is not justified.

The judiciary has been allocated about M97 million in the current budget, about M6 millions of which is for the Court of Appeal.
Although the total allocation has dropped from last year’s M102 million the amount reserved for the Court of Appeal has actually slightly increased.
While it might be true that the money is not enough, we find it hard to believe that the judiciary is so broke that it cannot keep the Apex court open.

Senior court officials have refused to give the numbers to justify their decision but it is common knowledge that Court of Appeal has always been manned by foreign judges.
Their accommodation, transport and allowances have always constituted the biggest component of the court’s budget.
There is no evidence that those costs have suddenly rocketed to completely cripple the court. Given all this we are inclined to call on the government to insist that the court be immediately reopened.

In doing so the government will not be interfering with the judiciary but merely helping litigants who are now in limbo.
That, of course, does not mean the government should ignore the courts’ request for more funding. We see this Apex’s closure as the judiciary’s cry for help.

We know their plight and we are aware that the government has been tight-fisted when it comes to the judiciary. We also know that the government is in a financial squeeze.
Yet we remain unconvinced that closing the highest court in the land is the solution.
If the plan was to use the court as a bargaining chip then the officials horribly miscalculated.
If this was a cry for help then the message has been heard loud and clear. Now open the Court!

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