Monday, July 22, 2024

Free indoor tanning at the Industrial Court

Are you the appropriate skin colour and have incorporated cosmetic tanning into your beauty regime? If yes, then look no farther than the Gaborone Industrial Court where, since late last year, the courtrooms have turned into tanning booths after the air-conditioning units broke down.

Last Wednesday, temperatures inside Courtroom One got so global-warming-high that as the court settled in for afternoon session, Justice Virgil Vergeer asked a litigant and witness (both male and suited) to feel free to take off their jackets if they couldn’t stand the sapping heat.

However, the judge and the only other lawyer in court remained swathed in their black robes.

Likewise, the two male assessors flanking Vergeer also kept their jackets on, ties knotted high and tight.

This was at the beginning of the afternoon session. Earlier in the day when he had been on the stand, the litigant had been sweating profusely and mopping up his glistening face with a wad of facial tissue paper every once so often. After lunch (when according to Setswana folk legend, the tummy would be “aflame”) the temperatures had shot through the roof – down not up. During the lunch break and before court reconvened, a clerk had switched off a row of lights over the public gallery and putting them back on later, explained that the purpose was to reduce the heat inside.

Near as one could tell, that did not work out too well because throughout the afternoon session, another court clerk was vigorously beating a paper fan around her neck and face. Slack-jawed, she auditioned several comfortless postures, at one point compressing her lips and heaving a weary breath through her nose. It is unlikely her job description mentions it but for her, being subjected to the torture of the natural elements (much like the jobless who pound the streets are) is just another day at the office.

To its credit, the Industrial Court torment is dispensed on an equal-opportunity basis. In another courtroom, just a hop and a skip away, the heat was just as intense. A female lawyer was also fanning herself with a piece of paper as she followed the arguments of a rival colleague addressing the court in an urgent application matter and taking notes at the same time. The courtroom heat gets really unbearable in instances when there is a high turnout in a matter before court. When the Botswana Railways Amalgamated Workers Union locked horns with its employer late last year, the courtroom was full and the collective body heat generated turned it into a tanning booth. Out of practical necessity, the doors in all courtrooms are kept open so that particles of cooler air from the yawn of the Court’s high-ceilinged atrium can waft in.

As everywhere else, loadshedding has made itself a factor in court business. At the close of the Wednesday hearing, Justice Vergeer gave the litigant in question more time than would otherwise have been the case in order to prepare his written submissions. The judge explained that this was to allow for what inconveniences might result from loadshedding.

The situation could not be worse for hearings which, to all intents and purposes, are a last-chance-saloon for shallow-pocketed litigants. There is the option of appealing the judgment of the Industrial Court at the Court of Appeal but for the average man, this is not an attractive option because of the cost involved. However, it takes absolute ages for a case to come before the court because of the caseload. The one in Courtroom One was registered way back in 2007. In addition to the caseload, there is also shortage of courtrooms which affects urgent applications as well. The BRAWU case experienced a delay as the judge had to postpone the matter in order to make way for another urgent application.

In terms of the infrastructure, the Gaborone Industrial Court is a poor cousin of the Gaborone High Court which is a kilometre or so away and opened mid-last year. At the latter’s entrance is a security metal detector (yet to be activated) which has to provide some assurance to those it is meant to protect in the future. On the other hand, the Industrial Court establishes its own security zone with an electronically controlled turnstile.

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