Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The cost of justice in Botswana disempowers the poor

There is consensus among all stakeholders that the cost of justice in Botswana is way above many poor people in the country.

This factor alone means the poor end up at the receiving end simply because they do not have the kind of resources to buy and pay for justice.

We applaud such efforts by the University of Botswana and, to some extent, the Law Society of Botswana to make sure that a section of society, especially the poor is able to access justice.
But still we have to hasten to point out that such efforts are far from being enough.

We call on the Government through the Attorney General Chambers and the Ministry of Justice to devise a way through which people do not obtain justice just on account that they happen to be poor.
Legal costs are prohibitively too high.

When such costs are not too high as to be within the reach of the poor, the complaint is often that the services so rendered, especially by the lawyers, are ineffectual as to effectively compromise the very reasons people seek legal representation in the first instance.
Two years ago, President Ian Khama also talked about this matter.

He said a failure to access justice on account of poverty often impeded the people’s right to dignity.

And as it is, dignity happens to be one of President Khama’s cardinal points that guide his administration.

The irony of it all is that two years on, there is still no perceptible movement towards establishing the kind of legal assistance that the President so rightfully espoused.
It may be because the economy is still going through a difficult patch.

But given the great premium that President Ian Khama attaches to giving the poor a voice as well as integrity, one would have hoped that by now a fund, albeit small had been set up with the assistance of Government towards setting up such a form of legal assistance.

Clearly, it is no longer possible to call on Government to find a way to reduce legal costs.
What we can therefore do is to call on Government to establish a legal fund with a specific mandate to help the poor to get not just access to our judicial system but also their integrity back.
There are many countries that have already done that.

Evidence shows that leaving this space to the exclusive determination of the free market is not sustainable.

While a failure to get access to justice is bad enough, the biggest risk that we run is that very soon a majority who feel disempowered will lose faith in the country’s judicial system.
When such trust is lost regaining it is never easy.

Once again we hope this is not asking for too much.

Experience shows that Batswana are growing increasingly litigious.
And because of the hardships that come about as a result of the shrinking economy, incidents of disputes over economic resources are more frequent.

The courts have become the final arbiters in such disputes.
And it goes without saying that those who can not afford legal representation on such matters will often lose out.


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